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History is Past Politics and Politics are Present History. Freeman 








June-July, 1S95 





Early Colonists 11 

Land Tenure 17 

Classes 21 

Organization of Labor 23 

Tenants-at-halves, Apprentices, Servants 27 


Legal Status of the Servant. 

First Period. 1619-1642 43 

Second Period. 1642-1726 49 

Third Period. 1726-1788 65 

Social Status of the Servant 68 





The materials upon which this study is based are largely 
contained in: 

I. The Records of the Virginia Company of London, of 
which two MS. copies are extant: 

(a) The Collingwood MS. (1619-1624), 2 v. folio, Library 
of Congress, Washington, D. C, prepared for the Earl of 
Southampton from the original records of the Company, 
now lost, in 1624, and compared with them page, by page by 
the secretary, Edward Collingwood, and attested by his sig- 
nature. Through the copious abstracts by the late Conway 
Robinson, Stith's History of Virginia and the publications 
of the Rev. E. D. Neill, this MS. is largely accessible in print. 

(b) The Randolph MS., formerly the property of John 
Randolph of Roanoke, now in the library of the Virginia 
Historical Society, Richmond, 2 v. folio, an i8th century 
transcript of the Collingwood MS.; and I v. folio of miscel- 
laneous correspondence, orders, instructions, etc. (1617 ). 

II. Documents, correspondence, orders, instructions, 
proclamations, laws by the Company, Governors' commis- 
sions, etc., 1587-1730, to be found in Purchas, Hakluyt, 
Force, Brown's Genesis of the United States (1605-1616), 
Smith's works (1606-1624), Calendars of English State 
Papers (Colonial, East Indies, Domestic, 1578-1676), Jeffer- 
son MSS. (1606-1711), MacDonald, De Jarnette, Sainsbury 
and Winder collections (Virgina MSS. from the British 
Record Office, 20 v. folio, 1587-1730), Colonial Records of 
Virginia (1619-1680), Land Books (1621 ), and reprints of 
valuable early papers in the Virginia Historical Register and 
the Virginia Historical Magazine. 

III. (a) The Records of the General Court of Virginia 
(1670-76), the Robinson MS. (1633 ), containing valuable 

8 Sources. [266 

abstracts from the General Court records and other papers 
since destroyed, the MS. Letters of Wm. Fitzhugh (1679- 
1699), the MS. Letters of Wm. Byrd (1683-1691), and the 
Virginia Gazettes (1737 ), all in the possession of the Vir- 
ginia Historical Society. 

(b) The MS. County Records of Accomac (1632 ), York 
(1633-1 709), 'Essex (1683-86), Henrico (1686-99), State Lib- 
rary, Richmond, Virginia. 

(c) Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia (1623-1792), 
and contemporary descriptions of Virginia; Whitaker 
(1613), Hamor (1614), Rolf (1616), "A Declaration," etc. 
(1620), Bullock (1649), Williams (1650), Hammond (1656), 
Blair, Chilton and Hartwell (1696), Beverley (1705), Jones 

Such other authorities as have been referred to will appear 
in the appended bibliography. 

I desire to express my thanks to Philip A. Bruce, Esq., 
of the Virginia Historical Society; to Messrs. W. W. Scott 
and W. G. Stanard, of the Virginia State Library; to Col. 
R. A. Brock, of the Southern Historical Society, and to 
Hon. A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress, for their 
courtesy in rendering these authorities accessible to me; 
also to Professors Adams, Emmott and Vincent, of the 
Johns Hopkins University, for valuable suggestions. 

T. C. B. 


The chief interest in the colonial history of America has 
always centered in the development of political institutions, 
which, from their importance and endurance, have become 
of wide significance. For this reason it has been customary 
to overlook, or to treat as processes subsidiary to the politi- 
cal evolution, many interesting social and economic develop- 
ments, which were of great moment in the history of the 
colonial period as furnishing the material background of this 
political development and giving it its distinctive character. 

In this paper an attempt has been made to trace the growth 
and significance of one such social institution as a result of 
the peculiar conditions under which the actual colonization 
took place. Though the study is limited to the experience 
of a single colony, that experience becomes, through the 
exceptional position occupied by that colony, broadly char- 
acteristic of the institution in general, and in all important 
particulars typical of the legal form which servitude assumed 
in the other colonies. 

The main ideas on which servitude was based originated 
in the early history of Virginia as a purely English colonial 
development before the other colonies were formed. The 
system was adopted in them with its outline already defined, 
requiring only local legislation to give it specific character 
in each colony. Such legislation was in some cases directly 
copied from the experience of Virginia, and when of inde- 
pendent or prior origin was largely determined by condi- 
tions more or less common to all the colonies, so that in 
its general legal character the institution was much the same 
in all. The similarity was more striking, both in theory and 
in practice, in the agricultural colonies of Virginia, Mary- 
land and Pennsylvania, and particularly in them was it of 
industrial importance. 

10 Introduction. [268 

The conditions in the other middle colonies, New Eng- 
land, the Carolinas and Georgia, were somewhat different 
and not so favorable to the existence of such an institution. 
It consequently neither reached so full a development nor 
continued to exist so long, but while it did it was of consid- 
erable social and economic importance, and its effects, 
though not so marked, were much the same. 

The object of the present paper, then, is to show: 

First, the purely colonial development of an institution 
which both legally and socially was distinct from the insti- 
tution of slavery, which grew up independently by its side, 
though the two institutions mutually affected and modified 
each other to some degree. 

Second, that it proved an important factor in the social 
and economic development of the colonies, and conferred a 
great benefit on England and other portions of Europe in 
offering a partial solution of their problem of the unem- 




The failure of individual enterprise to establish a perma- 
nent colony in America, and the example of successful com- 
mercial corporations, led to an adoption in England of the 
corporate principle in regard to colonization as well as to 
trade. The Virginia Company of London, created by let- 
ters patent from King James L, April 10, 1606, was or- 
ganized as a joint stock company on the general plan of such 
commercial corporations, and particularly on that of the 
East India Company. The two Companies had the same 
Governor. The distinction between them lay in the fact that 
the avowed object of the Virginia Company was to establish 
a colony of which trade was to be a result, while the India 
Company aimed at trade alone, and the colonization which 
resulted was merely incidental. 1 

Though the Virginia Company was composed of two sep- 
arate divisions, the London Company and the Plymouth 
Company, the former, which alone effected a permanent col- 
onization, is of interest to us. The charter members of this 
Company were largely merchants of London, and after its 
organization was perfected two classes of membership were 
distinguished : first, " Adventurers," who remained in Eng- 

1 Stephens, p. viii.; Bruce, I., 112, 136, 138, 154, 165; S. P. E. 
I., 10, 215; Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Com- 
merce, p. 268, cf. 125, 151, 267. Charter of 1606, Brown, p. 72. 
The peculiar feature of a Royal Council for the government 
of the Virginia Company was a result of this distinction. 

12 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [270 

land and subscribed money towards a capital stock; and, 
second, "Planters," who went in person as colonists, and 
were expected by their industry or trade to greatly enlarge 
the stock and its profits. Shares of adventure were granted 
for each subscription of 12 los. to the stock, and also for 
each " adventure of the person," entitling the holder to par- 
ticipate proportionately to his shares in all divisions of 
profits, both those resulting from the industry of the colo- 
nists and those resulting from trade, and besides this to 
receive a land grant of some nature for each share. A com- 
munity of property and of trade was to be established in the 
colony for five years after the first landing of the cdlonists, 
and at the end of that time doubtless a division of profits 
and of land was promised. 1 

1 Nova Britannia, Force, I., 24, 28; Brown, Genesis of the"TJ. 
S., I., 228, 229; Charter of 1609; Va. Mag. of Hist and Biog., 
Oct., 1894, Vol. II., 156, 7, Instructions to 1'eardley: Decl. of 
Anct. Planters, Col. Rec. Va., 81. We have nothing extant to 
show the exact terms on which the colonists of 1606-7 as a 
whole, and the "supplies" until 1609, came to Virginia. When 
we come to the latter year we have in a pamphlet (Nova 
Britannia) and in a " broadside " of the Company, both issued 
to attract new adventurers and planters, a perfect outline of 
the Company's policy at that time. There is nothing, however, 
so far as I have been able to discover, that contradicts the 
view that the outline as we have it for 1609 was in its general 
character that of 1606, the chief difference being the length 
of the term, which was probably five years in 1606 instead 
of the seven years of 1609; on the contrary, all the evidence 
we have goes to substantiate this theory. In 161$, the instruc- 
tions to Yeardley ordered that 100 acres of land be granted 
to each share owned by every planter, whether sent by the 
Company or transferred at his own charge before the coming 
away of Dale in 1616. This included some of the colonists of 
1607. The patent of 1606 specially authorizes the council of 
the colony to pass lands, declaring all lands passed " by letters 
patent shall be sufficient assurance from the said patentees, so 
divided amongst the undertakers for the plantations of the 
said several colonies," and shows that a division of land was 
contemplated. (Brown, I., 63.) This is established by the fact of 
Ancient Planters of 1607 receiving in later years grants of 
lands for their personal adventure, and also for subscriptions 
to stock. Captain Gabriel Archer's brother inherited one grant 

271] Servitude under the London Company. 13 

This so-called communal system was provided for in his 
Majesty's instructions issued a short time after the granting 
of the patent to the Company. They were to " trade to- 
gether all in one stocke or devideably, but in two or three 
stocks at most and bring not only all the fruits of their 
labours there, but also all such other goods and commodities 
which shall be brought out of England or any other place 
into several magazines or store-houses," and " every person 
of the said several colonies " was to " be furnished with all 
necessaries out of those several magazines or store-houses 
for and during the term of five years." An officer called 
the treasurer or " cape merchant " was to administer this 
magazine in connection with the President and Council, ac- 
counting for all goods taken into and withdrawn from this 
joint stock. 1 

The position of an early planter was thus theoretically 
that of a member of the Company, who was to receive in 
lieu of his service for a term of years his maintenance dur- 
ing that time, or his transportation and maintenance, at the 
Company's charge. For the adventure of his person, as 
well as for every subscription of 12 ios., he received a bill 
of adventure which entitled him to the proportion that 

of land from him, and Anthony Gosnold, in 1621, received a 
share for personal adventure sixteen years before at his own 
charge. Of. Brown, II., 814; Neil, Va. Co., 257; Arber's Smith, 
390; Burke, Vol. II., 332, 333, 334, under names Dodds, Simons, 
Martin. It is not to be supposed that mere adventure or gold- 
seeking would have constituted a sufficient motive to induce 
many persons to make such an experiment. A land grant of 
some kind was undoubtedly promised before 1609 in addition 
to the proportional share of profits. This was in accordance 
with the policy under which earlier attempts at discovery or 
colonization had been made. Gilbert's Articles of Agreement 
with the Merchants Adventurers in 1582, under his patent of 
1578, show the same general principle of Adventurers of the 
purse or person and of land grants, and Carlyle's project pre- 
sents a scheme of " Adventurers " and " Enterprisers " who are 
to share equally in the lands, &c., discovered. Sainsbury MS., 
I., 32, 35; Haklyut, III., 234, 235; Va. Hist. Mag., Oct. '94, 186. 
1 Brown, I., 71, 72. Instructions, Nov. 20, 1606. 

14 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [272 

would fall to a single share in a division of land and profits. 
As a member he stood on an equal footing with all other 
members and stockholders. 1 Practically, however, as we 
shall see, he was, at least during the first twelve years of the 
Company's government, little better than a servant manipu- 
lated in the interest of the Company, held in servitude be- 
yond a stipulated term, and defrauded of his just share in 
the proceeds of the undertaking. 

The administration of Sir Thomas Smith, the first Treas- 
urer of the Company, even when we allow for the exagger- 
ated statements of the planters, was undoubtedly hurtful to 
the welfare of the infant colony. His policy was one of im- 
mediate gain. The success of the East India Company, 
whose first Governor he also was, as a trading corporation, 
probably led to his desire to conduct the Virginia Company 
on much the same principles. The welfare of the colonists 
was neglected, and the project of true colonization seems to 
have been lost sight of in the desire to exploit tke riches of 
an unknown country and to discover the long sought-for 
passage to the South Seas. Though some 80,000 had been 
spent in twelve years, the Company, when turned over to 
Sir Edwin Sandys in 1619, was in debt 8000 or 9000, and 
there had survived but a bare fourth of near two thousand 
colonists that had been sent over. 2 Restrictions had been 
put upon the planting of corn, and the colonists were wholly 
dependent on the poor supplies from England or the doubt- 
ful generosity of the Indians. This policy had reduced the 

J Va. Co. Rec., II., 94, 111. Stith, Append. 26. Later, when 
separate courts were established, subsequent to the charters 
of 1609 and 1612, for governing the Company, whenever mem- 
bers had a voice in these courts, the Virginia colonist enjoyed 
a like privilege, if he happened to be in England. 

2 Va. Co. Rec., I., 4, 64, 181. Va. Hist. Mag., Oct., 1893, 157. 
Of more than 800 colonists sent during the first three years, 
only about sixty survived; of a still larger number sent before 
1619, but 400 were alive when Yeardley came, and half of these 
were unfit for work. Arber's Smith, Introd., cxxix.; Col. Rec. 
Va., 72, 80. 

273] Servitude under the London Company. 15 

colony in 1609 to but fifty persons, and discontent with the 
aristocratical form of the Company's government and its 
bad administration led to a petition for a new charter. This 
charter constituted the London Company of Virginia a sep- 
arate corporation from the Plymouth, defined the boundaries 
of its territory, and vested it with powers that gave it a more 
independent and republican character. 1 

To obtain fresh settlers the Company now issued broad- 
sides and pamphlets, with specious promises, which, how- 
ever honest its purpose, were certainly never fulfilled. There 
is evidence, however, in these advertisements to indicate 
that the Company consciously imposed on prospective set- 
tlers. One broadside solicits "workmen of whatever craft 
they may be men as well as women, who have any occupa- 
tion, who wish to go in this voyage for colonizing the coun- 
try with people they will receive for this voyage five hun- 
dred reales 2 for each one houses to live in, vegetable gar- 
dens and orchards and also food and clothing at the expense 
of the Company and besides this they will have a share of 
all the products and profits that may result from their labour, 
each in proportion, and they will also secure a share in the 
division of the land for themaelves and their heirs forever- 
more." 3 A letter to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Com- 
panies of London offers similar terms and a definite grant 
of " one hundred acres for every man's person that hath a 
trade or a body able to endure days labour, as much for his 
child that are of yeares to do service to the colony with fur- 
ther particular reward according to their particular merits 
and industry." The full policy of the Company appears in 
a pamphlet issued by it about the same time; the object was 
to raise both men and money. Shares were set at twelve 
pounds ten shillings, and every "ordinary" man, woman 
and child above ten years that went to the colony to remain 

1 Stith, Append. 8; Nova Britannia, Force, I., 23. 

2 The equivalent of 12 10s., or the expense of transportation. 
Brown, I., 252. 


16 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [274 

was allowed for his person a single share as if he had sub- 
scribed the required sum of money. Every " extraordinaire " 
man, as Divines, Governors, Ministers of State and Justice, 
" Knights, Gentlemen, Physitians," or such as were " of 
worth for special services," were rated and registered by the 
Council according to the value of their persons. The Com- 
pany on its part agreed to bear all the charges of settling 
and maintaining the plantation and furnishing supplies in a 
joint stock for seven years. There was to be no private 
trading, and " as we supply," they say, " from hence to the 
Planters at our owne charge all necessaries for food and 
apparel, for fortifying and building of houses in a joynt 
stock so they are also to return from thence the encrease 
and fruits of their labours for the use and advancement of 
the same joynt stock till the end of seven years; at which 
time we purpose (God willing) to make a division by Com- 
missioners appointed of all the lands granted unto us by his 
Majestic to every one of the colonists according to each 
man's several adventure agreeing with our Register booke 
which we doubt not will be for every share of twelve pounds, 
ten shillings, five hundred acres at least." A large increase 
of the stock is anticipated from the success of the colony, 
"which stock is also (as the land) to be divided equally at 
the seven years end or sooner, or so often as the Company 
shall think fit for the greatness of it to make a dividend." 
It was hoped that this would free them from further dis- 
bursements and would be an encouragement to the planters, 
as their share in the profits would thus be larger from a 
smaller number of shares owned by adventurers coming 
into the dividend. In order to secure promptness in the 
payment of subscriptions, every man was to be registered 
according to the time his money or person began to adven- 
ture. The division of lands was to be just, and to insure this 
it was to lie in scattered lots both good and bad, while the 
commissioners were to be chosen equally by adventurers 
and planters. 

Regardless of these professions, when the seven years had 

275] Servitude under the London Company. 17 

passed the Company proposed to allow only fifty acres of 
land to a share in a division of land about to be made, and 
alleged in excuse that they were not in possession of more, 
and that it was "not as yet freed from the encumber of 
woods and trees nor thoroughly survayed," yet they hoped 
" future opportunity will afford to divide the rest which we 
cloubt not will bring at least two hundred acres to every 
single share." The division was in fact to be made not in 
performance of their obligations, but as a measure to raise 
further money for the expenses of the Company. No ad- 
venturer was to be permitted to share in the division unless 
he made a further subscription of 12 los. (or more if he 
chose) to the Company's treasury. If he failed to do this 
he was to wait for some future division for his share, which 
would lie in some remote place and not along James river 
and " about the New Townes erected," as the lands of the 
present division did. The Company even went to the extent 
of admitting new adventurers, on a payment of the subscrip- 
tion, to equal shares in the division, in utter disregard of the 
rights of the old adventurers and of the planters in Virginia. 
Captain Argall was sent with commissioners and surveyors 
in 1616 to effect this division, and was granted in his own 
right a large plantation in the colony. It does not appear 
that the Virginia planters, except large shareholders like 
Captain John Martin and Lord Delaware, and possibly the 
men who had obtained their freedom in 1617 for building 
Charles City, ever participated in the division at all. 1 

No general private ownership of land in severalty seems 
to have existed in Virginia until the arrival of Yeardley as 
Governor in 1619. The body of the colonists were forcibly 
kept 2 out of their rights, and if they had estates, had no assur- 

1 Nova Brit, Force, I., 24, 25. New Brit, Brown, L, 273, 274. 
The charter of 1609 empowered the appointment of such a 

2 Brown, IL, 777, 778, 779. "A Brief Declaration," 1616; Va. 
Hist Mag., Oct., 1893, 158. Discourse of the Old Company, 
1625; Va. Co. Rec., IL, 196; Winder MS., L, 16. In justice to 
the Company, however, it should be said that its finances were 

18 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [276 

ance of their titles before that time. Certain corporate rights 
to land, however, belonged, as early as 1617, to such cor- 

in a very bad state. They had suffered greatly from traducers 
of the plantation both in England and Virginia. Many of the 
original subscribers became so disheartened by this or the mis- 
management of the Company that they refused to pay up their 
subscriptions, and the Company was compelled to go into debt, 
relying upon the private purses of its warmest supporters. The 
state of affairs became so bad by 1612 that the Company took 
care to secure in its third charter the insertion of a special 
clause empowering them to collect subscriptions from its mem- 
bers. (Brown, II., 625.) In Nov. and Dec., 1610, on the re- 
port of Sir Thomas Gates of the imperative necessity of sup- 
plies, the Company determined that all adventurers, both those 
already free of the Company (i. e., who had paid up), and those 
who desired to be free, should subscribe at least the sum of 
75, to be paid in three years, twenty-five each year, " towards 
a newe supply to be sent for the relief of the said colony in 
Virginia." Many members and other persons came to the re- 
lief of the Company, but a number of knights and gentlemen 
who subscribed refused to pay, and the Company was forced 
in 1613 to petition for the King's writ to sue in the High Court 
of Chancery for the amounts due. Brown, II., 623-630, Brooke 
to Elsmere. 

Lotteries were also used as a means of obtaining ready money, 
and in one to be drawn in 1614, every man who adventured 12 
10s. in the lottery could have either his prize or a Bill of Ad- 
venture to Virginia, with his part in all lands and profits arising 
from it. Adventurers who had not paid up their subscriptions 
were permitted, on the payment to the Treasurer, in money, of 
double the sum for which they had subscribed, both to be free 
of the Company and to share in the lottery for the whole amount 
paid in. If not satisfied with their drawings they could have 
Bills of Adventure instead. The Company even declares that 
if the colonists in Virginia were " now but a little while sup- 
plied with more hands and materials, we should the sooner 
resolve upon a division of the country by lot, and so lessen the 
General charge by leaving each several tribe or family to hus- 
band and manure his owne " (Ibid., II., 762, 763, 764). 

Whatever difficulties incident to a new plantation the Com- 
pany may have had to overcome, these were undoubtedly en- 
hanced by the maladministration of Sir Thomas Smith and his 
officers. The accounts were left in such a disorderly state when 
the government was turned over to Sandys that Smith's in- 
tegrity was open to grave doubts. Though his accounts were 
carefully examined and he was given an opportunity to clear 
up the discrepancy, it was never satisfactorily explained. Va. 
Co. Rec., I., 181; II., 83, 84, 251. 

277] Servitude under the London Company. 19 

porations as Bermudas Hundreds, and a few "particular 
plantations " had been established by the common action of 
a number of adventurers or planters banded together in 
societies, sometimes with exceptional grants of jurisdiction 
that made them practically independent manors. Though 
the grants themselves in some cases dated as early as 1616, 
the establishment of these independent proprietaries was 
comparatively slow, and they increased in number very little 
before I6IQ. 1 The year 1616 seems to have marked a 
change in the policy of the Company toward land grants, 
and in general to the disadvantage of the colonist. When 
an actual division of land was made to shareholders in 1619 
only those who had subscribed or had come to the colony 
before the departure of Dale in 1616 were considered to hold 
" Great Shares," or " Shares of Old Adventure," which en- 
titled them to a grant of 100 acres, while the holders of 
shares issued since that time could claim but 50 acres a 
share. 2 Though a few exceptional grants were possibly 

1 Va. Mag. Hist and Biog., Oct., 1893, 158, 160, Discourse of 
the Old Company. Ibid., Oct, '94, 160, Instructions to Yeardley. 
MS. Rec. of Va. Co., III., 140; Robinson MS., 146; Winder MS., 
I., 16; Company's Register, 1615-23; Col. Rec. of Va., 20 et seq., 
Va. Co. Rec., I., 62, 65. 

The first of the societies known as Hundreds of any import- 
ance was Smith's Hundred, so called from Sir Thomas Smith, 
one of the subscribers to its fund, and it seems to have been 
established subsequently to April, 1618. In 1620 it became 
Southampton Hundred. Another was Martin's Hundred. Other 
plantations were established either by some ancient adventurer 
or planter, associating others with him, as Argall's, Martin's 
and Lord Delaware's plantations, or by new adventurers joining 
themselves under some one person, an example of which is 
seen in Christopher Lawne's plantation. The failure of the 
Company itself as a successful colonizing agent and its very 
weak financial condition was the sole occasion of this private 

2 No dividend, except of lands, was ever declared in favor 
of the colonists, nor is there any record of a division of profits 
amongst the adventurers generally. The division of land that 
was made fell far short of the promises of the Company under 
which the shares were taken. The Ancient Planters, by the 
Company's orders, in 1619 were to have the 100 acres as a first 

20 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [278 

made to individuals by governors before Yeardley, they had 
no assurance of their titles, and we can regard no earlier 
date than 1619 as that of the full and general establishment 
of the rights of private property in land in Virginia. 1 

This communal system continued without a break until 
the year 1613, when a variation was introduced in the con- 
ditions of service of a number of the colonists and in their 
relation to the land. A sort of qualified property right was 
given them by the introduction of a tenancy-at-will on small 

division, and a future increase of this was promised only to 
those who had gone at their own charge. Their rights to be 
favored above those who went after the greatest hardships 
were over were apparently recognized by the Instructions, but 
they themselves in their first Assembly seem to have felt suf- 
ficient doubt as to its possible construction to petition the Com- 
pany that "they have the second, third and more divisions as 
well as any other planter," and shares also for their male chil- 
dren and issue. The latter request was not granted, but they 
appear to have been put on equal footing with other planters 
in subsequent land grants, which depended on a peopling of 
the tract first granted. I can find no evidence of a second or 
third division ever having been made. Arber's Smith, 526; Va. 
Hist. Mag., Oct, '94, 156, 157; Va, Co. Rec., I., 14, 15; Stith, 
139; Col. Rec. Va., Assembly of 1619. 

1 I can find no authority whatever, except an erroneous read- 
ing of Stith (p. 139), for Chalmers' assertion that private prop- 
erty in land was instituted by Dale in Virginia in the year 
1615 by a grant of 50 acres in fee to every free man in the 
colony. All the evidence we have proves conclusively that no 
such grant of lands was made, nor does Stith ascribe the change 
in the Company's policy at this time to Dale; it was the result, 
however, of the prosperous condition of the colony, which was 
largely the work of Dale. Dale was in England June 12, 1616, 
probably before the time of the issue of the Brief Declaration 
relating to the dividend of 50 acres, and it is possible if this 
were so that he was consulted in the matter. There is no au- 
thority, however, for the statement that it was due to his 
influence. From the " Declaration " itself it seems to have been 
dictated by other motives. Chalmers gives Stith as his author- 
ity on this point, and the mistake has crept into Virginia his- 
tories on the sole authority of Chalmers. He further errs in 
the date, while Stith gives it correctly. Stith, 139; Chalmers' 
Pol. Annals, 36; Campbell, 116; Cooke, 110; Burke, I., 177; Doyle, 
Va., Md. and the Carolinas, 152. 

279] Servitude under the London Company. 21 

tracts of land belonging to the Company, either at a fixed 
rent or on certain conditions of service to the colony. 1 

This change was brought about by the intolerable condi- 
tions of servitude and the right which the few remaining 
colonists of 1607 probably had to demand a release under 
r five-3^ear contracts now expired. The Bermuda plan- 
ters petitioned Governor Gates for permission to plant corn 
for a subsistence, as the Company had been derelict in fur- 
nishing supplies. This petition was denied unless they ac- 
cepted a tenantship-at-will, paying a yearly rent of three 
barrels of corn and giving a month's service to the colony. 2 
The condition of the rest of the colonists was less fortunate ; 
they were either retained in their servitude or granted, as 
tenants, small farms on condition of giving eleven months 
of the year to the benefit of the common store, from which 
they received but two barrels of corn. 

By 1616 further modifications had taken place, chiefly in 
favor of the farmer class, who had become a source of profit 
to the Company and now numbered nearly a third of the 
colonists. The time of their service was reduced to thirty- 
one days, rendered at their convenience, and they were 
allowed to rent laborers from the colony as their servants. 
They paid a small rent for their farms and were responsible 
for their own maintenance and that of their servants. These 
laborers were men transported at the Company's charge, 
and could be disposed of by the Governor for the best inter- 
ests of the colony, as their maintenance would otherwise de- 
volve upon the Company. Governor Dale placed a number 
of these on a tract of land called the " common garden," and 
applied the proceeds of their labor to the maintenance of 
their overseers and the public officers of the colony. The 
skilled laborers and artificers, such as carpenters and smiths, 
constituted another class and worked at their trades for the 

1 Stith, 131, 132; Chalmers, 34; Purehas, 1766 (Hamor). 
2 Decl. of Anc. Planters, Col. Rec. of Va., 75; Chalmers, 39; 
Stith, 132; Purehas, 1766. 

22 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [280 

colony, while they had land and time allotted them to till 
ground for their maintenance. 1 The freedom thus given to 
officers, farmers and skilled laborers was only conditional, 
depending on a responsibility for their own maintenance, 
while full control continued to be exercised over those who 
depended on the Company for support. This system con- 
tinued without any important change until 1619. 

Some distinction of classes existed in the colony from the 
earliest days. Society was influenced by its personnel, and 
doubtless also by the fact that many of the colonists, unable 
to pay their transportation, were either sent upon the com- 
mon charge of the Company or of adventurers in England. 
Many of the gentlemen among the first immigrants took 
with them valets and servants on stipulated wages. The 
Company also, bes^e its seamen and soldiers, had servants 
in its employ on wages. 2 This class, however, was small 
and exceptional, and the bulk of the colonists went as mem- 
bers of the Company, either at their own charge or at the 
charge of the Company or of some private person. The 
hardships of the early years left little opportunity for the 
growth of an aristocratic sentiment, though we find the dis- 
tinctions of class frequently recognized and the offices ab- 
sorbed by a limited number of gentlemen. Beyond this, 
little practical distinction existed. All were colony servants 
alike and suffered much the same exactions. 

Up to 1613 they were worked as hirelings of the Com- 
pany, receiving but a miserable support in lieu of their ser- 
vices. A portion of them, we have seen, then became ten- 
ants on the Company's land on hard conditions of tenure. 

1 Va. Hist Reg., I., 107-110, Rolf's Relation, 1616; Purchas, 
Pilgrimes, 1766, Hamor's Narrative; Purchas, His Pilgrimage, 
837; Va. Co. Rec., I., 65. The farms consisted of three acres, 
and the rental of a servant was two barrels and a half of 

2 Smith, Hist, of Va., I., 241; Neil, London Co., 13, Early Set- 
tlement; Third Rept of Royal Comm. on Hist. MSS., Appd., 53; 
Arber's Smith, 107, 122, 448, 486, 487, cxxix.; MS. Rec. Va. 
Co., III., 142; Brown, II., 550. 

281] Servitude under the London Company. 23 

Others, through the influence of Dale, were induced to serve 
the colony in the " building of Charles City and Hundred "* 
three years longer, on the promise of absolute freedom from 
the " general and common servitude " so much abhorred. 
They were allowed but a month in the year and a day in the 
week to provide for themselves, and were afterwards de- 
prived of half of this time, so that they were forced, as they 
say, " out of our daily tasks to redeem time wherein to 
labour for our sustenance thereby miserably to purchase our 
freedom." 2 The favored Bermuda planters were finally 
given a charter of incorporation and enjoyed better terms, 
but were bound to the performance of certain duties for 
a limited time before they could have their freedom. 3 

When Lord Delaware came in 1610 with fresh supplies 
he thoroughly organized the colony as a labor force under 
commanders and overseers. 4 Dale afterwards applied a rig- 
orous military system adopted from the Low Countries, and 
enforced it with great severity in carrying out his plans for 
establishing new plantations. The colonists were marched 
to their daily work in squads and companies under officers, 
and the severest penalties were prescribed for a breach of 
discipline or neglect of duty. A persistent neglect of labor 
was to be punished by galley service from one to three years. 
Penal servitude was also instituted; for "petty offences" 
they worked " as slaves in irons for a term of years." The 
planters affirm that there were " continual whippings and 
extraordinary punishments," such as hanging, shooting, 
breaking on the wheel, and even burning alive, but it is 
likely they much exaggerated the state of affairs. The sys- 
tem at least proved salutary. Towns were built and palis- 

'Col. Rec. Va., 68, 81. 

! Stith, 132; Purchas, Pilgrimes, 1766; Ool. Rec. Va., 75, 76. 
" Having most of them served the colony six or seven years in 
that general slavery." 

3 Va. Hist Reg., I., 109, Rolf's Relation, 1616. 

4 Lord Delaware's Letter to the Patentees in England, July 7, 
1610; Hist, of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, Introd., Hakluyt 
Soc., 34. 

24 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [282 

aded, and the colony was reduced to thorough order. 1 
Under the arbitrary rule of Governor Argall this system 
was to some extent revived. " Three years' slavery " to the 
colony was the penalty for a violation of his edicts, and 
absence from church was punished with " slavery " from a 
week to a year and a day. 2 

No freedom was granted from the common servitude until 
March, 1617, when the three-year contract made by Dale 
with the men of Charles City Hundred had expired and they 
demanded their "long desired freedome from that general 
and common servitude." Governor Yeardley willingly as- 
sented to this reasonable request, as they had now served the 
colony for nine or ten years. 3 No further extensive grant of 
freedom was made until he came as Governor in 1619, bring- 
ing a proclamation of freedom to most of the ancient plan- 
ters. Whenever it was obtained before this it was only at 
an "extraordinary payment," and throughout the first ad- 
' ministration of Yeardley and that of Argall the great ma- 
jority of the colonists remained in their former condition, 
which the ancient planters with little exaggeration termed 
" noe waye better than slavery."* Their rights as English- 

^ol. Rec. Va., 68, 69, 81; Force, III., 1647, Laws; Gal. State 
Papers, Col. 39. Dale's justification is to be found in the 
character of the colonists with whom he had to deal. Cf. Let- 
ter Dale to Salisbury, Brown, I., 506. 

2 See MS. Rec. Va. Co., III., 143, for a number of these edicts. 
Two instances may serve to illustrate the policy of her govern- 
ment. Goods were to be sold to the colonists from the magazine 
at 25 per cent, profit, while the price of tobacco was fixed at 
3 shillings. A violation of this edict was punished with three 
years' servitude to the colony. " Every person to go to church 
Sundays and holydays or lye neck and heel on the corps du 
guard the night following and be a slave the week following, 
second offence a month, third offence a year and a day." 

3 Col. Rec. Va., 77; MS. Rec. Va, Co., III., 142. 

4 Col. Rec. Va., 75, 78, 81. "Good Newes from Virginia," 11, 
21, 32 and E. D. The numerous letters sent by the Governor and 
General Assembly, 1621-1623, to prevent a re-establishment of 
Sir Thomas Smith's government in the Company, while ex- 
pressed in extravagant language, bear witness to the very ar- 

283] Servitude under the London Company. 25 

men, guaranteed by the first charter of the Company, had 
practically no recognition before the arrival of Yeardley. 

In 1618 the popular party in the Virginia Company tri- 
umphed over the court party, and Sir Thomas Smith was 
ousted from the governorship and Sir Edwin Sandys elected 
in his stead. An almost complete change of policy was the 
result; a new Governor was sent in the person of Yeardley 
to supplant the rapacious Argall. Yeardley carried with his 
commission an important concession of rights to the Vir- 
ginia planters. A new regime of freedom and representa- 
tive government, coupled with full rights of private property 
in land and a responsible governorship, now began in the 
colony. Yeardley did not bring freedom to all the ancient 
planters, but only to all those who had gone at their own 
charge previous to the departure of Dale in 1616, and to 
those who, sent at the Company's charge, had already served 
the full time of their servitude to the colony. 1 Many were, 
however, still retained in servitude until the end of their 
terms, and the Company, until its dissolution in 1624, con- 
tinued to send others at the Company's charge on terms of 
servitude modified to suit the changed conditions in the 

We see, then, that the colonist, while in theory only a Vir- 

bitrary treatment of the colonists during the first twelve years 
of the Company. Facts were attested by many persons who had 
been actual sufferers, and affirm that many of those whose 
lives had been recklessly sacrificed were not of mean rank, as 
alleged by Smith and Alderman Johnson, but of " ancient houses 
and born to estates of 1,000 by the year, somel more, some less 
who likewise perished by famine, those who survived who had 
both adventured their estates and persons were constrained to 
serve the colony (as if they had been slaves) seven or eight 
years for their freedoms who underwent as hard service and 
labors as the basest fellow that was brought out of Newgate." 
" Rather than be reduced to live under like government," they 
say, " we desire his Majestie that Commissioners may be sent 
over with authority to hang us." Winder MSS., I., 47-52. Cf. 
Ibid., 30, and MS. Rec. Va. Co., III., 168, 179, 180, 235. Cf. 
" Good Newes from Virginia," II., 21, 32 sq. 
1 Va. Hist. Mag., Oct., 1894, 157. 

26 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [284 

ginia member of the London Company, and entitled to equal 
rights and privileges with other members or adventurers, 
was, from the nature of the case, practically debarred from 
exercising these rights. As a planter absent in Virginia he 
could not sit nor have a voice in the councils of the Com- 
pany; he was entirely dependent on the Company's good 
faith for the performance of its obligations, and had recourse 
to no means to enforce their performance. He was kept by 
force in the colony, 1 and could have no communication with 
his friends in England. His letters were intercepted by the 
Company and could be destroyed if they contained anything 
to the Company's discredit. He was completely at the 
mercy of the edicts of arbitrary governors, and was forced 
to accept whatever abridgment of his rights and contract 
seemed good to the Governor and the Company. 2 His true 
position was that of a common servant working in the inter- 
est of a commercial company. In lieu of his support, or of 
his transportation and support, he was bound to the service 
of this company for a term of years. Under the arbitrary 
administration of the Company and of its deputy governors 
he was as absolutely at its disposal as a servant at his mas- 
ter's. His conduct was regulated by corporal punishment 
or more extreme measures. He could be hired out by the 
Company to private persons, or by the Governor for his 
personal advantage. 

Suggested by the policy of the Company, there gradually 
grew up after the year 1616 and the establishment of separate 
plantations, the practice on the part of societies of planters, 
and later of private persons, of transporting servants to set- 
tle and work their lands very much on the same conditions 

1 Not till winter of 1616-17 was any freedom to return to Eng- 
land given to the Virginia colonists. Brown, II., 798. 

2 The charter of 1609, which gave the Company a more inde- 
pendent government, was of no advantage to the colonists, as 
the Governors appointed were given arbitrary powers. Col. Rec. 
of Va., 75, 76; Stith, 132, 147, 148; Arber's Smith, cxxix., 
488; Force, III., 16. 

285] Servitude under the London Company. 27 

of service as those made by the Company. 1 This developed, 
as property began to be acquired by the planters generally, 
into the common mode of transporting servants on con- 
tracts by indenture for a limited time of service, varying in 
individual cases according to the terms of the contract 2 

In 1619, under the new Governor of the Company, an 
important modification was introduced regarding its ser- 
vants in Virginia and colonists who should be afterwards 
transported at the common charge. The plan instituted by 
Dale of making a part of the colonists farmers or tenants at 
a fixed rent, and others servants on a large tract of land for 
the Company's use, had worked successfully in raising reve- 
nues for the government, and the Company now proposed, 
by an extension of this experiment, to relieve the colonists 
" forever of all taxes and public burthens," by setting apart 
large tracts of " publick land " to be worked by a system of 
tenantship-at-halves. Such a system had been commended 
to Governor Argall in 1617, and orders had been issued 
setting apart various tracts of land, but the provisions were 
not carried out until the governorship of Yeardley, when 
tracts of three thousand acres were set apart in each of the 
four boroughs, and a special tract of like size was reserved 
for the Governor at Jamestown. These were for the general 

a Va. Co. Rec., II., 32, 41, 42, 196. 

2 It is impossible to say just when the first actually " in- 
dented " servants were introduced into Virginia. They became 
a distinct class after 1619, and formal indentures were prob- 
ably in use that year applying to servants sent to the planters. 
The Assembly of 1619 provided that all contracts of servants 
should be recorded and enforced. Whether indentures had been 
used by the Company or private persons previous to this is not 
clear. They seem to have been applied to the Company's tenants 
after 1619. The manuscript records of the Company contain a ref- 
erence, under the date 1622, to a boy's indenture, and it is prob- 
able indentures were used in 1619. A registry was kept of per- 
sons transported in the Company's ships, but those sent otherwise 
by private persons were not included in it until 1622, when so 
much trouble had been occasioned by verbal contracts that the 
Company's bookkeeper was required henceforth to register all 
contracts for service. Col. Rec., 21, 28; Va. Co. Rec., II., 17, 23. 

28 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [286 

revenue of the government Other tracts of half the size, 
called "borough lands," were given as common lands to 
each borough for the support of their " particular magistrates 
and officers and of all other charges." For endowing a 
" university and college " ten thousand acres were allotted in 
the territory of Henrico. 1 Men were to be placed on the 
land as tenants-at-halves on contract to remain there seven 
years, returning half the profits of their labor to the Com- 
pany and enjoying the other half themselves. They were 
apportioned as the revenues to be raised demanded, and in- 
creased from time to time. Within less than a year 500 
persons were sent on these terms. 2 Not only were the old 
public offices, such as the governor's and secretary's, to be 
thus supported by the allotment of a fixed number of ten- 
ants, which must be kept intact by successive incumbents, 
but whenever a new office was created or any project of 
public importance undertaken this became the common 
mode of insuring its support. 3 

By a special application of the English system of appren- 
ticeship, well established in England after the Statute of 
Apprentices of Elizabeth, 1563, which put a premium upon 
agricultural apprenticeship, an attempt was made to round 
out this tenantship and insure its perpetuity. One hundred 
poor boys and girls who were about to starve in the streets 
of London were sent in 1619, by the aid of the mayor and 
council of the city, to be bound to the tenants for a term of 
years, at the end of which they were to become themselves 

1 Instructions to Governor Yeardley, 1618; Va. Hist. Mag., Oct., 
1894, 155, 156, 158, 159; MS., Libr. of Supreme Court, Wash. Va. 
Rec., cap. 23, 221, p. 72. 

-Va. Co. Rec., L, 22, 26; Stith, 163, 165; Force, III., No. 5, 
10; IMd., 82; Collingwood MS., I., 30-35. 

8 Va. Co. Rec., 45, 59, 111, 119, 130-137, 151, 152. Ibid., MS. 
Rec., III., 123, 161, 170. The office of the marshal, vice-admiral 
and treasurer, when created, were to be so supported; the "phys- 
ician general " had tenants, and the ministers also six apiece 
for their glebes. The support of the East India school, of the 
iron works and of a glass furnace was to be provided for on 
the same plan. 

287] Servitude under the London Company. 29 

tenants-at-halves on the public lands, with an allowance of 
stock and corn to begin with. Industrial apprenticeship was 
also provided for to encourage trade and to stop the exces- 
sive planting of tobacco. The term was usually limited to 
seven years, or in the case of girls, upon marriage or becom- 
ing of age. Apprentices soon began to be disposed of to the 
planters on their reimbursing the Company for the charges 
of their outfit and transportation, and the records in several 
cases suggest a suspicion of speculation. 1 

The intent was probably to establish a kind of metayer 
system, though the tenant was at liberty at the expiration of 
his term to remove to " any other place at his owne will and 
pleasure." It was supposed that the terms were sufficiently 
advantageous to induce him to enter into further contracts 
for successive periods of seven years. The success of the 
earlier plan introduced by Dale led the Company to hope 
rot only for the support of the government, but for large 
returns in excess, and the design was to make it a permanent 
and certain source of all the necessary revenues. It was 
frustrated, however, by the maladministration of the system 
en the part of the government and officers. The tenants 
were frequently seated on remote and barren lands, or de- 
frauded in their contracts, being taken from their places and 
hired by the year to planters, so that almost from the begin- 
ning the system was a failure, and instead of providing 
a revenue it was not even self-supporting. The public ten- 
ants were particularly neglected in favor of those belonging 
to the officers, and several propositions were made at differ- 

1 Cal. S. P., Col. 19; Neill, London Co., 160, note, 161, 235; 
Cunningham, II., 42; Robinson MS., 68; MS. Rec. Va. Co., III., 
162; Va. Co. Rec., I., 25, 36, 39, 40-42, 91, 97, 100, 124, 140, 169. 

2 Force, III., No. 5, 14, .15; Va. Co. Rec., I., 40-42; Hening, 
I., 230. Though the Company was forced by the city of London 
to grant exceptional terms to tenants who had been formerly 
apprentices, by assigning them at the expiration of their tenant- 
ship a land grant of twenty-five acres in fee, yet it stipulated 
for the privilege of re-engaging them for further terms if the 
tenant freely consented. 

30 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [288 

ent times for a change in the terms of tenantship, but it was 
never effected. The system practically came to an end with 
the dissolution of the Company in 1624, but even as late as 
1642 some few tenants remained, showing that the Com- 
pany's plan of renewal of terms had been practiced. 1 It had 
degenerated by this time into the payment of a fixed rent or 
into planting for the benefit of the owner. 2 The growth 
of a class of strictly indented servants was also a factor in 
the failure of this tenantship. Servants were much less 
costly, and rapidly became more profitable. 3 Fifty servants 
were sent to serve the public in 1619, and in the next year a 
hundred more, say the records, " to be disposed of among 
the old planters which they exceedingly desire and will pay 
the Company their charges with very great thanks." 4 These 
men had been selected with great care, but the Company was 
unfortunate in being forced by the repeated orders of King 
James to add a number of dissolute persons whom he was 
determined, by the exercise of mere prerogative, to remove 
from England as an undesirable class. 5 

x Va. Co. Rec., I., 117, 169, 173; Smith, II., 40, 106, 107; Va. 
Co. Rec. MS., III., 161, 163, 166, 170, July 5, 1621; Va. Hist. Reg., 
L, 159; Hen., I., 230; Appd. 8th Rept. Royal Com. on Hist. MSS,, 
pts. II. & III., 39-44. Geo. Sandys, March 30, 1623, writes to 
his brother, Sir Samuel Sandys: "The tenants sent on that 
so absurd condition of halves were neither able to sustain 
themselves nor to discharge their moiety, and so dejected with 
their scarce provisions and finding nothing to answer their ex- 
pectations, that most of them gave themselves over and died 
of melancholy, the rest running so far in debt as left them still 
behind-hand and many (not seldom) losing their crops while 
they hunted for their belly." Cf. Nichols to Worsenholme, p. 41. 

2 Robinson MS., 188. 

3 Va. Co. Rec., I., 87; MS., IMd., III., 171; Neill, London Co., 
230; Force, III., 14. The average cost of a tenant was 16, of a 
servant 6 pounds. 

4 Va. Co. Rec., I., 67, 83. 

5 Stith, 165, 167, 368; Neill, London Co., 163; Va. Co. Rec., I., 
25, 26, 33, 34. The Company was ordered to send the " men 
prest" in Nov., 1619, but it postponed doing so for nearly two 
months, in the hope of being relieved of the necessity. The 

289] Servitude under the London Company. 31 

The new life which began in Virginia in the year 1619 
greatly encouraged industry and husbandry and led to a 
large increase of independent proprietaries in a few years. 
Special inducements were offered by large grants of land 
and exceptional privileges to associations of planters and 
adventurers for the establishing of separate plantations. 
Liberal grants were also made to tradesmen and to members 
of the Company in proportion to their shares. To encourage 
immigration additional grants were made to them for every 
person transported to the colony in the next seven years. 1 
A large number of servants and tenants was needed on these 
plantations, and for some time the importation by private ^ 
persons was larger than that by the Company. 2 In 1619 the 
number of tenants and servants was sufficiently large to 
make necessary some regulation of the future conditions of 
their servitude by law. The first General Assembly of Vir- 
ginia held in that year gave legal sanction and recognition 
to the servitude by the passage of special enactments provid- 
ing for the recording and strict performance of all contracts 
between master and servant. The right of free marriage 
was limited in the case of female servants, and servants in'V' 
general were prohibited from trade with the Indians. Cor- 
poral punishment was provided as a penalty in cases where 
a free man suffered fine unless the master remitted the fine, 
and a general discretionary power was given to the Gov- 
ernor and Council for regulation of other cases. 3 

importunity of the king, however, compelled it to yield. One 
hundred persons had been included in the first order, but it 
is probable that only half of these were sent to Virginia, and 
they were allowed to be selected. The Somers Island Company 
probably yielded to the request of the Virginia Company and 
took the rest. Collingwood MS., I., 47. 

a Va. Hist. Mag., 160, 162, 164 (Oct., 1894); Col. Rec. Va,, 78, 
81; Va. Co. Rec., I., 39; II., 124, 128, 196. 

- IMd., I., 123, 137, 148, 153, 154, 161; II., 148, 150. In the four 
years 1619-23 forty-four patents were issued to as many dif- 
ferent people for the transportation of a hundred persons each 
to Virginia; in the twelve years preceding only six patents had 
been granted. 

3 Col. Rec. Va,, 1, 21, 24, 25, 28; Laws, 1619. 

32 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [290 

The main principles on which the institution of servitude 
was based were by this time clearly developed, and its 
growth henceforth consisted in the gradual addition of inci- 
dents originating in customs peculiar to colonial conditions, 
which, recognized by judicial decisions, became f fixed in 
local customary law, or by the enactment of special statutes 
were established as a part of the statutory law. 



In the policy of the London Company towards its colo- 
nists during the first twelve years we have seen the begin- 
ning and gradual development of an idea which, adopted /I 
and amplified by the later government of the Company and 
in the administration of Virginia as a Royal Colony, grew 
into the system here called Indented Servitude, which 
throughout the colonial period was widely extended in all 
the American colonies and became an important factor in 
their economic and social development. Gradually, and not 
always consciously, it was formed into a hard and fixed sys- 
tem, in some respects analogous to the later institution of 
slavery, from which, however, it was always broadly distin- 
guished both in social custom and in law. 

The servitude thus developed was limited and conditional. 
With respect to its origin it was of two kinds, resting on 
distinct principles: 

First. Voluntary Servitude, based on free contract with \ 
the London Company or with private persons for definite 
terms of service, in consideration of the servant's transpor- 
tation and maintenance during servitude. 

Second. Involuntary Servitude, where legal authority con- 
demned a person to a term of servitude judged necessary for 
his reformation or prevention from an idle course of life, or 
as a reprieve from other punishment for misdemeanors 
already committed. 

Though involuntary on the part of the servant, this kind 

1 The term Indented Servitude has been used as the one best 
characteristic of the system at large. Strictly indented ser- 
vants not only formed the largest class, but gave legal definite- 
ness to the system of white servitude. 

34 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [292 

involved a contract between the authority imposing the sen- 
tence and the person that undertook the transportation of 
the offender, 1 and the master's right to service resting upon 
the terms of this contract made or assigned to him was prac- 
tically on the same footing as involuntary servitude. 

The great body of servants was comprised in the former 
class. They were free persons, largely from England, 
Wales, Scotland and Ireland, who wished to go to the colony 
as settlers to better their condition, but were too poor to bear 
the charges of their transportation. 2 They consequently en- 
tered into a voluntary contract with any one that would 
assume these charges and their maintenance for such a term 
of years as would repay the outlay, placing themselves for 
this limited time at the disposal of the person for any reas- 
onable service. The contract was made in Great Britain 
with resident planters or the agents of colonists, but more 
frequently with shipmasters who traded in Virginia and dis- 
posed of the servant on their arrival as they saw fit. The 
agreement was by deed indented, and hence arose the term 
" Indented " Servants. 8 This class of so-called " Kids " was 

1 The right to the stipulated term of servitude was given to 
any one that would contract for the servant's transportation, and 
he seems to have had free disposal of this right when he reached 
Virginia. Va. Co. Rec., I., 91; II., 10, 11; Eng. Statutes at Large, 
4 Geo., c. II.; Anson, 7, 43. This was probably in England a 
Contract of Record. 

'Jefferson's Works, IX., 254 sq.; Jones, Present State, 53, 54. 

8 Neill, Va. Carolorum, 57, note. An indenture of 1628, made 
after assignments of contracts were recognized in Virginia, 
may be taken as typical of those generally in use. A husband- 
man of Surrey County, England, contracts and binds himself 
to a citizen and ironmonger of London " to continue the Obedient 
Servant of him, the said Edward hurd his heirs and assignes 
and so by him or them sente transported unto the countrey and 
land of Virginia in the parts beyond the seas to be by him or 
them employde upon his plantation there for and during the 
space of ffour yeares and will be tractable and obedient 
and a good and faithful servant onyst to be in all such things as 
Bhall be Commanded him In consideration whereof the said 
Edward hurd doth covenant that he will transporte and 
furnishe to the said Logwood to and for Virginia aforesaid 
and allowe unto him sustenance meat and drink apparel and 
other necessaryes for his livelyhood and sustenance during the 
said service "sealed and delivered in the presence of two 

293] Indented Servitude. 35 

supplemented by a smaller class of persons who went on 
agreements for fixed wages for a definite time. 

The other large class was supplied chiefly from English 
paupers, vagrants and dissolute persons sent under the arbi- / 1 
trary exercise of royal prerogative or by court sentences, 
and later by the action of English penal statutes. In the 
earlier years it included a large number of poor children 
from the counties and towns of England, who were sent to 
apprenticeship on easy conditions. 1 The penal regulations 
of the colony up to the year 1642 tended also to recruit this 
class. 8 A very large number of the convicts sent to the I. 
American plantations were political and not social criminals. \ 
Of the Scotch prisoners taken at the battle of Worcester six- 
teen hundred and ten were sent to Virginia in 1651. Two 
years later a hundred Irish Tories were sent, and in 1685 a 
number of the followers of Monmouth that had escaped the 
cruelties of Jeffreys. Many of the Scotch prisoners of Dun- 
bar and of the rebels of 1666 were sent to New England 5 
and the other plantations. As early as 1611 Governor Dale, 
anxious to fill out the number of two thousand men for es- 
tablishing military posts along James river, had recom- 
mended that all convicts from the common jails be kept up 
for three years. They " are not always," he said, " the worst 
kind of men, either for birth, spirit, or body and would be 
glad to escape a just sentence and make this their new coun- 
try, and plant therein with all diligence, cheerfulness and 
comfort." This request passed unheeded, and the earliest 

1 Gal. State Papers, Domestic, 584; Stith, 168. Blackstone, I., 
137, note; IV., 401 and note; Reeves, 598. 

1 The servitude for offenses, early instituted by the governors 
and continued by the courts, can hardly be regarded as 
properly a part of the system, however. It was strict penal 
servitude in the interest of the commonweal. These convicts 
were not held by the colonists, but employed on public works 
as servants of the colony, or in service to the Governor in his 
official capacity, except in specific cases. Robinson MS., II., 12, 
13, 65; Va. Go. MS. Rec., III., 215, 224. Cf. Hening, I., 351; II., 
119, 441; III., 277. 

* Mass. Hist. Coll., Vol. IX., 2, Dale to Salisbury. 

36 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [294 

introduction of any of the criminal class seems to have been 
in 1618, when a man convicted of manslaughter and sen- 
tenced to be hanged was reprieved, " because he was a car- 
penter and the plantation needed carpenters." 1 In the early 
years of the seventeenth century England suffered, particu- 
larly in her border counties, from a number of malefactors 
whom it was impossible to bring to justice. Magistrates 
and most of the gentlemen of the counties countenanced 
them, and even had them in their employ for private ends. 
Many schemes were proposed to the king for remedying the 
evil and compelling the justices and officers to perform their 
duty. Transportation had been made use of before, and the 
king now proposed to send the offenders to Virginia. 2 
From 1618 to 1622 a number came, but the large increase 
was in the latter half of the century. In 1653 an order of 
the Council of State appointed a committee concerning the 
transportation of vagrants to the foreign plantations. In 
1 66 1 another committee was appointed to further the send- 
ing of people, and power was given to Justices of the Peace 
to transport felons, beggars and disorderly persons. 8 

Sufficient numbers had been sent under this power, and by 
the transportation of political offenders, to furnish ring- 
leaders for an attempt to subvert the government in 1663. 
In consequence of this and the danger of the continued im- 
portation of " great numbers " of these " wicked villaines," 
the General Court, upon the petition of the counties of Glou- 
cester and Middlesex, issued an order prohibiting any fur- 
ther importation of them after the twentieth of January, 
1671.* Through the influence of Lord Arlington this order 

1 Ibid., l^t; Middlesex Rec., II., 224. Others were granted re- 
prieves earlier on condition of transportation, but it is probable 
that they went elsewhere than Virginia, Sir Thomas Smith 
was Governor of the East India Company at this time. 

2 Surtees Soc., Vol. 68, 419, 420, Appd.; Bacon, Essay on Plan- 

3 Cal. State Papers, Col. 28, 441; cf. Ashley, Economic Hist. 
Eng., 366. 

4 Rec. Genl. Ct, 1670-2, 5, 52; Hening, II., 191; Rob. MS., 8, 67, 
257, 261. 

295] Indented Servitude. 37 

was confirmed in England and was made to apply to the 
other American colonies as well as to Virginia. 1 A strict 
system of search was applied to every ship that entered Vir- 
ginia ports, and for the next half-century the colony had a 
respite from this class of " Newgaters " and " Jail Birds." 2 
Their transportation was now diverted to the West Indies, 
but this proved so ineffectual in putting a stop to petty felo- 
nies that in the 4th year of George I. (1717) Parliament 
passed a statute over the most vigorous protests from the 
Virginia merchants in London, making the American colo- 
nies practically a reformatory and a dumping-ground for the 
felons of England. 8 In 1766 the benefits of this act were 
extended to include Scotland, though Benjamin Franklin, 
on the part of Pennsylvania, memorialized Parliament 
against it, and in 1768 the more speedy transportation of 
felons was ordered.* The practice was only stopped by the 
War of the Revolution. The preamble of the act of 1779 
significantly remarks ttiat "whereas the transportation of 
felons to His Majesty's American Colonies is attended with 
many difficulties," they are now to be sent to " other parts 
beyond the sea, whether situate in America or not." 5 They , - 
were finally disposed of in convict galleys or sent to the new 
penal colonies in New South Wales or at Botany Bay. 6 

Virginia, contrary to some of the colonies, never favored 
the importation of this class. They were seldom reformed, 
and their " room " was held much more desirable than their 
" company," says Jones. 7 Many attempts were made to pre- 

1 Cal. State Papers, 242; Ttec. Genl. Ct, 52. 
2 Rec. Genl. Ct, Apl. 6, 1672, 52. 

3 Geo. I., c. 11, Statutes at Large; Va. MSS. fr. B. R. O., Vol. 
II., pt. 2, p. 579. 

4 6 Geo. III., c. 32; Ford, Works of Franklin, Vol. X., 120; 
8 Geo. III., c. 15. 

5 8 Geo. IH., c. 74. 

6 Lecky, England in the Eighteenth Century, VI., 254. 
7 Jones, Present State, 53, 54; Beverley, 233; " Va. Verges," 

38 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [296 

vent their coming by the imposition of heavy duties, but 
they were not finally and effectually prohibited until I788. 1 
The ability given the States to lay a tax of $10 on all persons 
imported was incorporated into the Constitution of the 
United States, mainly through the efforts of George Mason 
of Virginia, and was partly designed to keep out convicts. 2 
From this attitude of the colony it probably received a much 
smaller number than some of the other colonies. 3 

Another important source of involuntary servitude was 
found in the practice of " spiriting," which grew up in the 
reign of Charles I. and continued throughout the Common- 
wealth period and the reign of Charles II. It was an organ- 
ized system of kidnapping persons, young and old, usually 
cf the laboring classes, and transporting them to the planta- 
tions to be sold for the benefit of the kidnapper or ship- 
master to whom they were assigned. 4 It became widely 
extended in England, but Bristol and London were the cen- 
ters of the traffic. Throughout London and the parishes of 
Middlesex county its agents, called " spirits/' were distrib- 
uted; men and women, yeomen, tradesmen, doctors and a 
class of rogues and idlers who earned a livelihood by this 
means. 5 The ladies of the court, and even the mayor of 

1 Va. MSS. fr. B. R. O., 1697, p. 320; 1723, 1729, March 26; 
Hening, XII., 668. Cf. III., 251; V., 24, 546. 

2 Madison Papers, Vol. III., 1430; Article I., sec. 9, Constitu- 
tion of U. S. 

'Lodge, Colonies, 242; Lecky, VI., 254 sq. Franklin's Works, 
X., 119. 

4 Middlesex Records, III., 38, 94, 245. The offense, when dis- 
covered, which was probably not true of one in twenty cases, 
was treated with remarkable leniency by the courts. Under 
the Civil Law it would have been punished with death, but we 
meet with petty fines of a few shillings, even when the " spirit " 
confessed the crime, and in one case only 12d.; a few hours in 
the pillory, or imprisonment till the fine was paid seems to 
have been considered by the judges a sufficient atonement. The 
Session Rolls of Middlesex show that a large number of the cases 
were not even brought to trial, though true bills had been 
brought against the offenders. 

5 Middlesex Rec., II., 306, 326, 335, 336; III., 100, 184, 229, 
253, 257, 259, 271, 326, &c.; IV., 40, 70-87, 245; Cal. State Papers, 
Col. 411. 

297] Indented Servitude. 39 

Bristol, were not beneath the suspicion of profiting by this 
lucrative business. All manner of pretenses were used to 
decoy the victims aboard ships lying in the Thames or to 
places where they could be assaulted and forcibly conveyed 
on board, to be disposed of to the ship's company or to 
merchants. 1 

The practice first arose in connection with the West In- 
dia plantations. Barbadoes and other island plantations 
probably received a much greater number than the Ameri- 
can colonies. 2 We find a case belonging to Virginia as 
early as 1644.* In 1664 the abuse had grown so bad that 
tumults were frequently raised in the streets of London. It 
was only necessary to point the finger at a woman and call 
her a " common spirit " to raise a " ryot " against her. The 
Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, and a number of 
merchants, planters and shipmasters, sent petitions urging 
the establishment of a registry office to put an end to the 
practice. 4 The office was established in September of that 
year, and was to register all covenants and issue certificates 
to the merchants. 5 The penalty for not registering any per- 
son who was to be transported as a servant was 20, and the 
consent of friends or relatives in person at the office was 
necessary for the transportation of any one under twelve 
years of age, and good reasons had to be shown for such 
transportation. Even these strict regulations failed to stop 
the practice, and in 1670 it was necessary to resort to Parlia- 
ment to prevent the abuse by imposing as a penalty death 
without benefit of clergy. 6 

1 IMd., 449; Va. MS. fr. B. R. (X, 1640-91, 170. 

2 Middlesex Rec., Vol. III., 276; IV., 65, 69-73, 78, 79, 155, 196, 

3 Va. MSS. fr. the British Record Office, Vol. I., 46. Of. State 
Papers (Calendar), 411, 457. 

4 Gal. State Papers, Col. 220; Middlesex Rec., IV., 181. 

r> Cal. State Papers, Col. 221, 232. The office had been pro- 
posed in 1660. 

6 This and the lessened demand for servants was sufficient 
to put an end to the abuse. 

40 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [298 

Further technical distinctions arose in law determined by 
the title under which servitude was due. Thus, where 
verbal contracts alone existed, or where it was specially 
stipulated for, "Servitude according to the Custom" took 
place, and the servant was held for the customary term, 
whatever it might be, unless a contract was proved. After 
the statute of 1643, which set a definite term for all servants 
brought in without indentures, this became known as servi- 
tude by act of Assembly. Spirited servants, as a rule, came 
under this act. The servitude of felons and convicts, after 
the penal statutes, was known as servitude by act of Parlia- 
ment, and that of offenders sentenced in Virginia as servi- 
tude by order of court. These distinctions were of little 
practical importance, however, as all servants except con- 
victs met with the same treatment both in social custom and 
in law. 

The servants in Virginia were usually English, Scotch or 
Irish, but there were also a few Dutch, French, Portuguese 
and Polish. 1 They were usually transported persons, but 

1 Jones, 54; Robinson MS., II., 255; Howe, Va., 207. Before 
the statute of 1661, which made negroes generally slaves, a 
number were held as servants for a term, and even afterward 
a few seem to have remained servants. Robinson MS., 10, 30, 
250, 256; MS. Rec. Va, Co., III., 292; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 161, 218; 
1673, 1675. From 1656-1676 and after 1691, Indian children 
sold by their parents, and captives, could legally be held only as 
servants; but the disposition was, when not restrained by law, 
to make them slaves. Acts of 1676 and 1682 legalized Indian 
slavery, but it was prohibited in 1670, and finally in 1691 by an 
act for free trade with all Indians, which the General Court 
construed as taking away all right to their slavery. Many were, 
however, unjustly reduced to slavery up to 1705, as the act 
was supposed to date from the revisal of 1705, and not from 
1691. Hening, I., 396; II., 15, 143, 155, 283, 491, 562; III., 69 
and note. Robinson MS., 256, 261, 262; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 29, 
218. (Vld. Jeff. Cases in Genl. Court, p. 123; Robin et al. vs. 
Hardaway, 1772.) Mulatto bastards were also made servants; 
but the number from these sources was comparatively so in- 
significant that a consideration of them may be omitted. A 
proposition was even entertained of making servants of the 
women sent over for wives, whether they married or not. 

299] Indented Servitude. 41 

residents in the colony also sold themselves into servitude 
for various reasons. The demand for servants before the 
rise of slavery was always very great in the American colo- 
nies and was further enhanced by that of the island planta- 
tions. It was the impossibility of supplying this by the 
regular means that furnished the justification professed in 
the English penal statutes 1 and gave encouragement to the 
illicit practice of spiriting. In the early years before these 
means were resorted to, dealing in servants had become a 
very profitable business. The London merchants were not 
slow to see the advantages of such a trade; a servant might 
be transported at a cost of from 6 to 8 and sold for 40 or 
60, and a systematic speculation in servants was begun 
both in England and in Virginia. 2 Regular agencies were 
established, and servants might be had by any one who 
wished to import them " at a day's warning." 3 Others were 
consigned to merchants in Virginia or sent with shiploads 
of goods on a venture. 4 The demand continued unabated 
till near the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The 
numbers were so considerable in 1651 that the Commis- 
sioners of the Commonwealth who were sent to demand the 
submission of Virginia were authorized, in case of resist- 
ance, to levy the servants for reducing the colony. 5 From 
this time to the beginning of the decline of the system the 
yearly importations were very large, the number imported 
from 1664 to 1671 averaging 1500 a year. 

1 Hening, HI., 449; 4 Geo., c. 11, etc. 

2 Append, to Eighth Kept., etc., 41; Gal. State Papers, Col. 36, 
76, 77, 100; Smith, II., 105; Purchas, His Pilgrimage, p. 1787. 

'Verney Papers, Camden Soc. Pub.; Neill, Virginia Carl. 109. 

4 Cal. State Papers, Col. 36, 258, 268. 

5 " New Description of Virginia," London, 1649; Thurloe State 
Papers, Vol. I., 198. The general muster of 1624 shows the 
number of servants then in Virginia as 378 in a population of 
2500. They were well distributed, most of the planters having 
but one or two. Afterwards many planters brought in as many 
as 30, and in 1671 the servants were 6000, 15 per cent of the 
population. Hening, II., 515. 

42 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [300 

Several causes combined to fasten the system very early 
upon Virginia: the stimulus given to the acquisition of 
wealth resulting from the establishment of private property 
in land; 1 the phenomenally rapid growth of tobacco culture, 
occasioned by the productiveness of labor employed in it, 
and the returns to be had. in ready money from its sale; 2 the 
increasing cost of hired labor; the "head right" of fifty 
acres which was received for every person transported; 3 but 
particularly the unfortunate condition of the laboring classes 
in England, whose real wages (owing to the great rise in 
prices in the latter part of the sixteenth century) were ex- 
ceedingly low and gave rise to a large class of unemployed. 4 

Legal Status of the Servant. The history of the legal 
development of the institution properly begins with 1619 
and falls broadly into three general periods: 

First, 1619-1642, characterized by the development of cer- 
tain incidents of servitude from practices originating in the 
first twelve years of the Company's government. These 
gradually become fixed during this period chiefly in Custo- 
mary Law. 

Second, 1642-1726, in which the incidents of the former 
period are extended and further established by Statute Law, 

1 Col. Rec, Va., Declaration, eto. The ancient planters regarded 
the massacre of 1622 as a judgment on their greed. 

2 The tobacco culture was introduced into Virginia by Gov- 
ernor Yeardley in 1616, and even in this year restrictions had 
to be imposed to prevent the planters from altogether neglect- 
ing corn. In 1619, Secretary John Pory tells us that their 
*' riches consist in Tobacco," and their " principall wealth " in 
servants, " but they are chargeable," he says, " to be furnished 
with armes, apparel and bedding and for their transportation 
and casuall both at sea and for their first yeare commonly at 
lande also, but if they escape they prove very hardy and 
sound able men." Purchas, His Pilgrimage, 837, Rolf's Rela- 
tion; Campbell, 117; Pory to Carleton, Mass. Hist. Soc., IX., 4th, 
9, 10. 

8 Smith, 165; Mass. Hist. Coll., Vol. IX., 4th sec., p. 10, note. 
See Pory to Carleton; Va. Co. of London, Va. Hist Coll., Vol. 
VII.; Vol. I., 14, 15. 

* Cunningham, 201, 422. Purchas, His Pilgrimage, p. 1821. 

301] Indented Servitude. 43 

and the system reduced to legal uniformity in contrast to the 
somewhat varying practices of the courts in the former 
period. The institution reaches also in this period its high- 
est practical development. 

Third, 1726-1788, the period of decline of the system in 
consequence of the rising institution of negro slavery. 

First Period, 1619-1642. After the Assembly of 1619, 
until near the middle of the century, very little direct legis- 
lation appears in regard to servants, but in this interim there 
grew up many customs recognized by the tribunals which 
affected very seriously the personal rights of servants. One 1 
of the earliest and most important customs was the right 
assumed by the master to assign his servant's contract I 
whether he gave his consent or not. This originated in the 
practice with the Company of disposing of apprentices and 
servants to planters on their agreeing to reimburse the Com- 
pany for the expenses of the servant's transportation, and in 
the custom with officers of the government of renting their 
tenants and apprentices to planters in order to insure an 
easier or more certain support. The depressed condition 
of the colony following the Indian massacre of 1622 
made the sale of servants a very common practice among 
both officers and planters. 1 In 1623 George Sandys, the 
treasurer of Virginia, was forced to sell the only remaining 
eleven servants of the Company for mere lack of provisions 
to support them, and a planter sold the seven men on his 
plantation for a hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco. The 
practice was loudly condemned in England and bitterly re- 
sented on the part of servants, but the planters found their 
justification in the exigencies of the occasion, and their legal 
right to make the sale seems never to have been actually 
called into question. 2 Assignments of contracts for the _ 

1 Neill, London Co., 356, 375; Append,, 8th Kept. Com. on Hist. 
MSS., 6, 39; Cal. S. P., Col. 36. 

2 App. 8th Rep., I. and III., 39, 41-44; Smith, Hist, II., 40; Va. 
Hist. Mag., Oct., 1893, 162. The servants wrote indignant let- 
ters to their friends. One says he was " sold like a d 

44 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [302 

whole or the unexpired portion of the servant's term became 
from this time forward very common. As a result the idea 
of the contract and of the legal personality of the servant 
was gradually lost sight of in the disposition to regard him 
as a chattel and a part of the personal estate of his master, 
which might be treated and disposed of very much in the 
same way as the rest of the estate. He became thus rated 
in inventories of estates, and was disposed of both b^will 
and by deed along with the rest of the property. 1 

But aside from these incidents of property which attached 
to the condition of the servant, his position before the law 
was very little different from that of the freemen of the col- 
ony. His personality was recognized by the enactment of 
special laws for his protection and in his being subjected, 
with the rest of the colonists, to the payment of a 1 poll tax for 
the support of the government and of tithes to the minister. 
In the early period, like a freeman, he was liable to military 
service in behalf of the state. He enjoyed rights of trade, 
except with the Indians, and could acquire property. His 
testimony was always received iri court, unless he was a con- 
vict, and he was a valid witness to contracts. 2 His religious 
instruction was provided for in the same manner as that of 
freemen. The courts carefully guarded his contract and 
effected speedy redress of his grievances. He might sue and 
be sued, and had the right of appeal to the supreme judiciary 
of the colony, and throughout this period he enjoyed the 
important political right of the suffrage on an equality with 
freemen, a right which in most cases had not been exer- 

slave," but admits that his master's whole household " was 
like to be starved." Rolf says the " buying and selling of men 
and boies or to be set over from one to another for a yearly 
rent or that the tenants or lawful servants should be abridged 
their contracts " was held " a thing most intolerable in Eng- 

1 Accomac Rec. MS., 61, 82 (1635); Robinson MS., 9; York Co. 
Rec., 86. 
2 Hening, I., 123, 143, 144, 157, 196. 

303] Indented Servitude. 45 

cised before. 1 In penal legislation, however, the distinction 
was generally made between the servant and the freeman in 
the servant's liability to corporal punishment for of- 
fenses for which a freeman was punished by fine or impris- 
onment. A law of 1619 provided that " if a servant wilfully 
neglect his master's commands he shall suffer bodily 
punishment," but the right of the master to regulate his 
servant's conduct in this way was of slow growth and 
had no legislative sanction before 1662. During this 
period correction remained in the hands of the Assembly 
and of the courts. 2 

When Wyatt came as Governor in 1621 he was instructed 
to see that all servants fared alike in the colony and that pun- 
ishment for their offenses should be service to the colony in 
1 public works, and by a law of 1619 servitude for wages was 
/provided as a penalty for all " idlers and renegates." 3 That 
such provisions should be realized it was necessary for the 
servant to perform service in addition to the term of his con- 
tract. In this we have the germ of additions of time, a prac- 
tice which later became the occasion of a very serious abuse 
of the servant's rights by the addition of terms altogether 
incommensurate with the offenses for which they were im- 
posed. It became a means with the courts of enforcing 
specific performance of the servant's contract, and was so 
applied contrary to the common law doctrine relating to 
contracts, which only provided for damages in cases of 
breach of contract and not for specific performance. 4 

The common law of England had the character of national 
law in the colony, and accompanied the colonists as a per- 
sonal law having territorial extent. Although the relation 
of master and servant in the case of apprenticeship as an ex- 
tension of the relation of parent and child, guardian and 
ward, was an effect of the common law having personal 

1 IW., 150, 157, 330, 333, 334, 403, 411, 412 (also 217); Ace. 
Rec. MS., 2, 24, 54, 76, 84; f Col. Rec. Va. Laws, 1619. 
8 Col. Rec. Va., 1619, 25, 28; Hening, I., 127, 130, 192. 
8 Col. Rec. Va., 12 et seq.\ Hening, I., 117. 
4 Robinson MS., 52. 

46 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [304 

extent, yet the relation of master and servant in indented ser- 
vitude was unknown to that law, and could neither be de- 
rived from nor regulated by its principles. It had to depend 
entirely for its sanction on special local statutes, or on the 
action of tribunals which had no precedents before them and 
acted as the necessities of the occasion demanded, with little 
regard to established doctrines of the common law. The 
growth of the institution is thus marked by the develop- 
ment of local customary and statute law, and only very grad- 
ually assumed a fixed shape as this development proceeded. 1 

The master's title to service rested on the provisions of 
the contract. These were very varied, sometimes specifying, 
besides the ordinary conditions, treatment of a special nature, 
sometimes stipulating for a trusteeship of such property as 
the servant possessed, and sometimes for gifts of land or of 
apparel and corn sufficient to set the servant up as a freeman 
when his term had expired. 2 Such provisions were recog- 
nized by the courts in their strict enforcement of the con- 
tract, and led to the establishment of customary rights such 
as additions of time and freedom dues. A servant might 
claim on the expiration of his term freedom dues in apparel 
and corn whether stipulated for or not. Their amount was 
at first customary and determined where sued for by ap- 
pointees of the court, but finally they became fixed in statu- 
tory law. 3 

Monthly courts were held as early as 1622, and by virtue 
of their general jurisdiction over all cases not involving more 
than a hundred pounds of tobacco (which was later extended 
to 5 and 10 causes and to those of less than 1600 pounds 
of tobacco) they had jurisdiction over disputes between mas- 
ter and servant within this limit, and the Commissioners as 
conservators of the peace had power to regulate the conduct 

1 Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage, I., 116, 129, 139, 210, 
220; Reeves, Eng. Law, II., 598; Anson, Law of Contract, 213 sq. 

2 Ace. Rec. MS., 88 (1637); Essex Rec. MS., 140 (1686). 

3 Hening, I., 303, 319, 346; II., 66, 70. Rob. MS, 8; Ace. Rec. 
I., 10, 272, 273, 519; II., 58, 68; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct., 158; Col. Rec. 
Va., 81. 

305] Indented Servitude. 47 

of the servant whenever necessary. Before this the Gov- 
ernor and Council or the General Assembly had had sole 
jurisdiction of all causes. After quarter courts were estab- 
lished in 1632 appeals lay to it, as before to the Governor 
and Council, and to the Assembly as the supreme appellate 
court in the colony. The servant by his right of suit in these 
courts and of appeal had a speedy and effective remedy for 
his grievances, and the rulings of the justices established 
many precedents which greatly mitigated the conditions of 
his servitude. 1 The judges w r hen they were acquainted with 
the English law at all put a most liberal construction upon it 
and generally in favor of the servant. In breaches of con- 
tract discharge was often granted for insufficient reasons, and 
for misusage or non-fulfilment of any of the conditions by 
the master, the servant, if he did not obtain his freedom, 
might have his term lessened and be granted damages. The 
courts also often enjoined such action on the part of the 
master as would repair the injuries sustained by the servant. 
In 1640 a master who had bought a maid-servant, " with 
intent to marry her," was ordered by the General Court to 
do so within ten days or to free her on the payment of 500 
Ibs. of tobacco. And where insufficient food and clothing 

1 In 1643 the ten monthly courts were reduced to six County 
Courts, with jurisdiction over Cases above 20 shillings, or 200 
Ibs. of tobacco. Cases of less amount could be decided in the dis- 
cretion of any commissioner. The inconvenience of resorting to 
the general court at Jamestown caused a grant in 1645 of general 
jurisdiction of all cases in law and equity to the county courts. 
Two years later the jurisdiction of the General Court was limited 
to cases of 1600 Ibs. of tobacco in value or over. In 1662 there 
were 17 county courts having jurisdiction in all cases " of what 
ralue or nature whatsoever not touching life or member," and the 
name Commissioner was changed to Justice of the Peace. The 
Quarter Courts now became the General Court, held twie a 
year, and appeals lay to it as formerly, and from it to the 
Assembly. In 1659 appeal to the Assembly had been limited 
to cases involving more than 2500 Ibs. of tobacco. This limita- 
tion was removed in 1661, and justice facilitated by a reference 
of all cases except those of the winter term to itinerant chan- 

48 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [306 

were provided servants were taken away until the master 
corrected the fault 1 When the record of his contract wa$ 
not sufficient to protect the servant on the expiration of his 
term from the greed of his master, he might make it appear 
upon testimony in the County Court that the conditions of 
the contract had been fulfilled and receive a certificate of the 
fact, which thus became indisputable evidence of his right 
to freedom. The courts also recognized the servant's right 
to acquire and hold property. 2 

In the practices of the courts regulating the punishment 
of servants we see the way prepared for later provisions of 
the statute law not so favorable to them. By virtue of the 
power of the courts to regulate the private as well as the 
public conduct of servants, and by the discretionary power 
given by enactments to the Governor and Council, they 
might be subjected to indignities of punishment not worthy 
of a freeman. In but few cases did the courts permit servants' 
offenses to be punished by fine ; the usual penalty was whip- 
ping or additional servitude to the master or to the colony. 
This probably would not have been the case if the servant 
had generally had anything wherewith to discharge a fine, 
but as he had not, some other means of satisfaction was 
found necessary. Penal legislation regarding servants did 
not differ greatly in severity, however, from that applied to 
freemen, except in the case of absconding servants, where 
very severe punishment was early inflicted, designed by its 
severity to prevent recurrence of the offense. 8 Towards the 

1 Rob. MS., 8, 9, 27, 68, 243 sq.; Ace. Rec., 2, 39, 44, 58, 76, 35, 
45, 85, 86, 91, 82. In 1637 a bad character, John Leech, threat- 
ened to have his master " up to James City to see if he could not 
get free of a year's service," alleging " that his master had not 
used him so well as he formerly had done," and that he would 
use against him speeches made by the master against the Gover- 
nor and Council. 

2 Rob. MS., 8, 9, 68; Ace. Rec., 35, 76, 82. 

8 Robinson MS., 9-13, 27, 66, 69; Ace. Rec., 107. A number of 
servants, for a conspiracy "to run out of the colony and en- 
ticing divers others to be actors in the same conspiracy," were 

307] Indented Servitude. 49 

end of the period the servant's great abuse of his rights of 
trade, by allowing himself to be tempted by loose persons to 
embezzle and sell his master's goods, made necessary some 
restriction. The Assembly of 1639 conditioned this right 
henceforth on the master's consent, imposing severe penal- 
ties upon persons who should induce any servant to trade 
secretly, and the courts seem to have rigidly enforced the 
provisions of this act. 1 

Before the close of the first half of the century, then, we 
have seen the growth, mainly through judicial decisions, of 
certain customary rights on the part both of the servant-and 
of the master as recognized incidents of the cojiditfon of ser- 
vitude. These were on the part of the servant the right to a 
certificate of freedom, to freedom dues and to the posses- 
sion of property; on the part of the master, to the free 
assignment of the servant's contract by deed or will, to; 
additions of time in lieu of damages for breach of contract, 
and the right of forbidding the servant to engage in trade. 
Corporal punishment and additions of time have also be- 
come the ordinary modes of regulating the servant's con- 
duct and punishing his offenses. 

Second Period, 1642-1726. From the year 1642 the 
statute books begin to fill with legislation concerning ser- 
vants, mainly confirming or modifying such rights as had 
been already developed and subjecting the system of servi- 
tude to more uniform regulation. Until 1643 no definite 
term had been fixed by law for the duration of servitude 
when not expressed in indentures. The terms specified 
in the indentures varied from two to eight years, the usual 

to be severely whipped and to serve the colony for a period 
of seven years in irons. This was in 1640. " Saml. Powell for 
purloining a pair of breeches and other things from the house 
of Capt. Jno. Howe deed, shall pay ffower dayes work to Elias 
Taylor with all charges of the court and the sheriff's ffees and 
to sit in the stockes on the next Sabbath day with a ribell hi 
his hatt from the beginning of morninge prayer until the end 
of the sermon with a pair of breeches about his neck." 
1 Hening, I., 275, 445; Robinson MS., 10, 17 (1640). 

50 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [308 

one being from four to five years, but until this time custom 
had regulated the servitude of such persons as came 
in without indentures, and what was known as servitude 
"according to the custom of the country" had begun to 
grow up. Where no contract but a verbal one existed 
there was always room for controversy between master 
and servant, each trying to prove an agreement that 
would be to his advantage. To put a stop to such 
controversies the Assembly passed a law definitely fix- 
ing the term in all cases where servants were imported 
"having no indentures or covenants," according to the age 
of the servant. The master was at first the judge of the ser- 
vant's age, but as this naturally worked to the servant's dis- 
advantage, the judgment of ages was put in the hands of the 
county courts after 1657. Unless the master produced his 
servant in court for this purpose within four months after 
arrival he could only claim the least term allowed by the law, 
and after 1705 the servant had two months allowed in which 
to prove an alleged indenture for a less time. 1 

By the beginning of the period several abuses had grown 
up that prevented or seriously interfered with the master's 
realization of his right to service. Hitherto there had been 
no legal restriction to prevent a man-servant from marrying, 
though by an act of 1619 a female servant could not marry 
without the consent either of her parents or of her master, 
or of both the magistrate and minister of the place, upon 
pain of severe censure by the Governor and Council. The 
right of free marriage was one which for very obvious reas- 
ons would work to the disadvantage and inconvenience of 
the master, particularly if the marriage was made without his 
knowledge, and in 1643 a law was passed providing "that 
what man servant soever hath since January 1640 or here- 
after shall secretly marry with any maid or woman servant 
without the consent of her master he or they so offending 
shall in the first place serve out his or their tyme or tymes 

1 Hening, I., 257, 411, 441; II., 169, 297, 447. 

309] Indented Servitude. 51 

with his or their masters and after serve his master one 
complete year more for such offence committed," and the 
maid " shall for her offence double the tyme of service with 
her master or mistress." When the offender was a free man 
he had to pay double the value of the maid's service to her 
master and a fine of 500 Ibs. of tobacco to the parish. For 
the offense of fornication with a maid-servant the guilty 
man was required to give her master a year's service for the 
loss of her time, or, if a freeman, he might make a money 
satisfaction. In 1662 the master's losses from neglect of 
work or stolen goods and provisions were sufficient to make 
necessary a further restriction upon the secret marriage of 
servants. The act provided that "noe minister either pub- 
lish the banns or celebrate the contract of marriage between 
any servants unless he have from both their masters a cer- 
tificate that it is done with their consent," under penalty 
of the heavy fine of ten thousand pounds of tobacco. Ser- 
vants, whether male or female, guilty of marriage contrary 
to the act, with each other or with free persons, suffered the 
addition of a year's time to their servitude, and the guilty 
free person was condemned to a like term of service or the 
payment of 1500 Ibs. of tobacco to the master. 1 

Another great abuse was the practice which greedy and 
wealthy planters had of covenanting with runaway servants 
as hirelings or sharers on remote plantations, thus encourag- 
ing them by more favorable terms to desert their proper ser-J 
vice. This had been anticipated by an enactment of the 
Assembly of 1619, which provided "that no crafty or advan- 
tageous be suffered to be put in practice for inticing away 
tenants or servants of any particular plantation from the 
place where they are. seated," and that it should be the " duty 
of the Governor and Counsell of Estate most severely to 
punish both the seducers and the seduced and to return 
them to their former places." But by 1643 tne practice on 
the part of these planters had become so flagrant that com- 

JGol.-Rec.-Va.; 28; Hening,-!.; 253,- 438; -II.,- 114; -III.,' 444.' 

52 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [310 

plaints of it were made at every quarter court, and the As- 
sembly enacted that any person so contracting with a ser- 
vant and entertaining him for a whole year, without a cer- 
tificate of the freedom of the servant from the commander or 
commissioner of the place, should forfeit to the master 
twenty pounds of tobacco for every night the servant was 
entertained, while the servant was to be punished at the dis- 
cretion of the Governor and Council. 1 

But more than anything else the habit on the part of ser- 
vants themselves of absconding from their masters' service, 
stealing their masters' goods and enticing others to go with 
them, worked to the detriment of the masters and the peril 
of the colony. The courts had attempted by the most severe 
punishments to put a stop to the practice. Whipping, addi- 
tions of time from one to seven years, branding, and even 
servitude in irons, proved ineffectual. The possibility of 
entire escape from servitude or of service on better terms 
proved too great a temptation, and with an unruly class of 
servants such attempts became habitual. Statute after 
statute was passed regulating the punishment and providing 
for the pursuit and recapture of runaways; but although 
laws gradually became severer and finally made no distinc- 
tion in treatment between runaway servants and slaves, it 
was impossible to entirely put a stop to the habit so long as 
the system itself lasted. The loss to the master was often 
serious even if he recovered the servant. A loss of time 
from several months to a year or more, and the expense of 
recapture, which at first fell upon him, made the pursuit of 
the servant often not worth while for the remaining time for 
which he was entitled to his service. 2 The rise of this prac- 
tice was not due to the severity of the service to which the 
servant was subjected. The courts, we have seen, provided 
a speedy remedy for any misusage, and by an act of 1642 it 
was provided that " where any servants shall have just cause 

1 Col. Rec. Va., 22; Hening, I., 253, 254, 401. 

2 MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 201; Hening, III., 277, 452, 458. 

311] Indented Servitude. 53 

of complaint against their masters or mistresses by harsh or 
unchristianlike usage or otherwise for want of diet, or con- 
venient necessaryes that then it shall be lawful for any such 
servant or servants to repair to the next commissioner to 
make his or their complaint." The commissioner was then 
required to summon the master or mistress before the 
county court which had discretion to settle the matter, tak- 
ing care "that no such servant or servants be misused by 
their masters or mistresses where they shall find the cause of 
the complaint to be just." Runaways began to increased 
with the importation of an undesirable class of ser-j 
vants, a few of whom were present in the colony 
from the earliest days, and who during this period 
were largely recruited by the addition of felons and 
" spirited " persons. They were the common offenders, 
and by their habits corrupted the better class of ser- 
vants. 1 When this class grew more numerous in the latter) 
half of the seventeenth century servants became so demoral-7 
ized that they would run away in "troops," enticing thq 
negro slaves to go with them. In counties whose situation 
made escape peculiarly easy the abuse was very great. In 
1 66 1 it had become so bad in Gloucester that the Assembly-^ 
authorized that county to make whatsoever laws it saw fit 
meet the case of such runaways. 2 Servants would plot how 
they might run away even before the.y landed in Virginia, 3 
and under the liberty given them on the plantations, and 
with an accessible back country, it was not a difficult matter 
to accomplish. They frequently made their escape to the 
adjoining provinces of Maryland and North Carolina, where 
their condition being unknown they might enjoy their free- 
dom, or if discovered their recovery was attended with such 
difficulties as to insure their safety. 

X MS. Rec. Va. Co., Library of Congress, II., 21; Westover 
MSS., II., 240. Cal. State Papers, Col. 19: Domestic, 447, 594, 
1635, July 8, Dec. 5. Purchas, His Pilgrimage, 1809 (Virginia 
Verges); Neill, Lond. Co., 120, 160, note. 

2 Hening, II., 273. s Ibid., III., 35. 

54 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [312 

The right of the master to claim his servant in another 
jurisdiction was one not always recognized, even though the 
institution existed there, as it depended on colonial legisla- 
tion having an intercolonial application. In the absence of 
statutes providing for the return of fugitive servants from 
one jurisdiction to another, the justices refused to take the 
responsibility of acting, and so frequently much injustice and 
inconvenience resulted. The only redress left to the master 
was the power to levy on goods in Virginia belonging to 
inhabitants of the province in question. 1 :North Carolina 
became such an asylum for absconding servants and slaves 
that it was popularly known in Virginia as the " Refuge of 
Runaways." The Eastern Shores of Virginia and Mary- 
land were also favorite resorts. Servants frequently escaped 
to the Dutch plantations and sometimes even to New Eng- 
land. To restrict the practice and to prevent absconding 
debtors, a pass was required for any person leaving the 
colony, and masters of ships were put under severe penalties 
not to transport any servant or slave without such a pass or 
license from his master. 2 Certificates of freedom were also 
required to be given in due form to every servant on the 
expiration of his term, and under the power given by the 
statutes any person travelling in the colony, if not able to give 
an intelligent account of himself or to show his certificate, 
might be taken up as a runaway. The law for the capture of 
runaways was at first very inefficient, and went through a 
number of experimental changes before one that was effect- 
ive was discovered. In the first acts relating to runaways no 

1 Hening, I., 539; Northampton Bee., IL, 149; Hening, 1661, 
Drummond's servant. An interesting question might have arisen 
as to the master's claim had a runaway servant escaped to Eng- 
land or to a foreign country where the institution was not rec- 
ognized. No such case seems to have occurred. A transported 
felon would probably have been seized and treated as an es- 
caped convict in England, but what remedy the master could 
have had in this case, or when the fugitive was not a felon, is 
not clear. 

2 Hening, III., 271; IV., 173; IX., 187. 

313] Indented Servitude. 55 

means of discovery and no method of pursuit and return to 
the master were prescribed. The pursuit seems at first to 
have devolved upon the master, but the loss resulting from 
this caused the General Court in 1640 to direct pursuit to be 
made by the sheriff and his posse at the expense of the 
county from which the fugitive escaped. Pursuit by hue 
and cry, adopted from the English custom, seems also to 
have been in use, but by 1658 it had been so much neglected 
that a special act for its enforcement was necessary. 1 Con- 
stables also pursued under search-warrants, but they neg- 
lected their duty, and in 1661 the Assembly had to promise 
them rewards of 200 Ibs. of tobacco from the master. This 
proved insufficient and had to be increased and even paid 
out of the public revenues, to be reimbursed by the master. 
Additional rewards from 3 to 10, according to the value 
of the servant and his distance from home, were offered by 
masters. In 1669 the practice was so bad that any onel 
was permitted to take up a runaway and receive a reward of 
looo Ibs. of tobacco from the public, to be reimbursed by 
the servitude of the offender " to the country when free of 
his master." 2 

In consequence of the growth of these abuses, and de- 
signed as a corrective of them, we find a great extension of 
the principles of additions of time and of corporal punish- 
ment, to such a degree in fact as to prove often a source of 
great injustice to the servant. The principle of additions of 
time, we have seen, was early extended by the action of the 

1 Herring, I., 255, 401, 483, 539. Reeves, V., 355 (rev. ed.). The 
hue and cry was an ancient method of pursuing offenders in 
England, and rested on the statute of Winchester, 13 Edward 
I., 81, 82, c. I., and on 28 Ed. III., c. II. In Virginia a warrant 
was issued by the governor or some of the council, or a com- 
missioner of the county, and masters of households were put 
under penalty of 100 Ibs. of tobacco for its speedy conveyance 
from house to house. 

2 Hening, II., 21, 273; Va. Gazettes, 1736, Dec. 17, Feb. 25, 
Mar. 11. To facilitate discovery, habitual runaways had their 
hair cut " close above the ears," or were " branded in the cheek 
with the letter R." Hening, I., 254, 440, 517. 

56 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [314 

courts beyond its application as a punishment merely, and 
became the ultimate resort of the master in his legal claim 
of damages for breaches of contract by the servant; 1 but 
some confusion seems to have existed in the minds of the 
judges and the framers of the later statute law as to the 
exact theory on which the principle should be applied. 
Though continued as a punishment until the abolition in 
1643 of servitude to the colony for offenses, it seemed in the 
case of several kinds of offenses, both before and after that 
time, to partake of the nature of damages to the master for 
loss resulting from the offense, as well as of a penalty for the 
offense itself. In other cases it was clearly viewed in the 
light of damages alone. It was of the former character gen- 
erally in such offenses as secret marriage and fornication, 
and of the latter for unlawful absence from his master's ser- 
vice or for acts of violence toward his master or overseer. 
The term of servitude that was imposed was determined by 
the offense or the damage sustained, and was, except in a 
few offenses, not excessive, varying from one to two years. 

1 MS. Rec. of Genl. Ct, 1640, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 52, 53; 
Ace. Rec. MS., 1633, 10. The practice of the courts was not 
uniform, however. The General Court, on the 9th of July, 1640, 
ordered two runaway servants to be punished by whipping 
and " to serve out their time and add a year to their master 
to recompense his loss by their absence"; but a few months 
later a master was denied his claim to three months service 
due him by a servant's loss of time. At a court held the follow- 
ing week, the master of certain runaways is given a year's 
additional service, or " longer if said master shall see cause " 
for their loss of time, and for sheriff's fees paid by 
masters, " the servants shall make good the . same at the 
expiration of their time by a year's service apiece to their 
said masters." A maid-servant who was guilty of fornication 
was ordered to "serve her full time to her master as by cov- 
enant," and her husband to make satisfaction " for such further 
damages " as the master should make appear. The Accomac 
county court ordered a servant " to perform the full term of 
his indentures faithfully and truly " or to stand to the " cen- 
sure " of the court. This was a case where recourse might 
have been had on the freedom dues as damages, but the court 
left these to the servant. 

315] Indented Servitude. 57 

In such cases as fornication or having a bastard the addition 
might be considerable. A woman-servant, for having a bas- 
tard, served her master from one and a half to two and a half 
years, and if the bastard were by a negro or a mulatto she 
might be sold to additional service for five years for the 
benefit of the public. Besides the master's claim on the 
female servant he might claim also a year's service from the 
guilty man, but in both cases the servant was given liberty 
to discharge this claim by a money satisfaction as in the 
case of free persons. 1 

The greatest abuse of additions, however, arose in con- 
nection with runaway servants. Before terms were defi- 
nitely specified by statutes they were capable of very arbi- 
trary assessment at the hands of the courts. The length of the 
term was sometimes left to the discretion of the master or 
was adjudged more than he himself cared to exact. Addi- 
tional terms from two to seven years, served in irons, to the 
public, were prescribed in extreme cases.* The additions 
possible under the statutes were also very great, as ultimate 
recourse was had on the servant for all the expenses of his 
capture and return to his master. These expenses included 
rewards, sheriff's fees and jail fees. These latter were not 
fixed until 1726, and were a source of great abuse. When 
the master refused to pay these expenses, or could not be 
found, the servant was publicly sold or rented for such a 
time as would repay the public disbursements, and was then 
returned to his master to serve the remainder of his time and 
that due by addition. 3 The act of 1643 provided that runa- 
ways from their " master's service shall be lyable to make 
satisfaction by service at the end of their tymes by indenture 
(vizt.) double the tyme of service soe neglected, and in some 
cases more if the commissioners find it requisite and con- 

1 Hening, I., 438; II., 114, 115, 168; III., 67, 140, 452. By an act 
or 1662 the father was liable to make satisfaction to the parish 
by additional service for the keeping of the child. 

1 Robinson MS., 9-13; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 154, 161. 

'Hening, L, 255, 539. 

58 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [316 

venient," and subsequent acts allowed the master to recom- 
pense himself by service for all expenses to which he had 
been put in recovering his servant. The rate at which he 
could do this was fixed by the act of 1705 at one year's ser- 
vice for every 800 Ibs. of tobacco, or a month and a half for 
a hundred pounds. 1 The servant, however, might commute 
this penalty by giving security for the payment of these ex- 
penses within six months, and the master was forced to 
accept security or payment when offered. The servant was 
also protected from injustice by the necessity imposed upon 
the master of presenting his claim in the next county court 
after the return of the runaway, or becoming liable to the 
loss of it altogether. 2 Where the master's goods had been 
stolen, or negroes enticed to accompany the runaway, the 
addition of time sufficient for compensation might be 
large. The servant was required to serve for the lost time 
of the negro as for his own, since the negro was held by a 
statute of 1 66 1 to be "incapable of making satisfaction by 
addition of time." 3 Additions thus frequently amounted to 
as much as four or five years, or even seven in some cases, 
and were often more than the original term of servitude. 4 

Corporal punishment as a common mode of regulating 
the servant's conduct was acquired by the master as a legal 
right during this period, and when retained in the hands of 
the local magistrate or other officers it became, under the 
power given by the statutes, readily susceptible of abuse. 
The extension of this important power beyond the admin- 
istration of the courts was largely a result of the necessity of 
providing some severe correction in the case of runaways. 

1 Hening, II., 458. 

*Ibid., III., 456, 458, 459; IV., 168, 171; XII., 191. 

8 Ibid., II., 26. This is said to be the first statute sanction- 
ing negro slavery in Virginia, but as early as 1625 the status 
of the negro, according to Jefferson, was determined by a 
case in the General Court. Jeff. Cases, Genl. Ct, 1720, etc., 119, 

4 MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 1672, 3, 12, 15, 35, 44, 154, 158, 161, 188. 

317] Indented Servitude. 59 

The servant had generally no means wherewith to remit a 
fine, and so in penal offenses, where free persons were fined, 
we have seen that the servant was whipped, unless his master 
discharged the fine. In many cases also it was a general 
punishment both under the laws of England and under those 
cf the colony, so that a law of 1662 provided for the erecting 
of a whipping-post in every county ; but even before this time 
the master had assumed the right of administering corporal 
punishment to his servant. In this year it became a right 
recognized by law, but when a master received an addition 
of time for his servant's offense it remained doubtful whether 
corporal punishment could also be administered. This 
question was settled by the Assembly in 1668. It was de- 
clared that " moderate corporal punishment " might be given 
to runaways either by the master or by a magistrate, and 
that it should "not deprive the master of the satisfaction 
allowed by law, the one being as necessary to reclayme them 
from perishing in that idle course as the other is just to 
repaire the damages sustained by the master." 1 The power 
thus given was doubtless abused, for in 1705 an act was 
passed restraining masters from giving "immoderate cor- 
rection," and requiring an order from a justice of the peace 
for the whipping of " a Christian white servant naked/' under 
penalty of a forfeit of forty shillings to the party injured. 
The act is significant as showing also the master's right to 
employ corporal punishment as a regulation of the conduct 
of servants in general. 2 

Slaves were for the first time included in the act against |7 
runaways in 1670, and it was provided "that every constable I; 
into whose hands the said ffugative shall by any commis- 
sioner's warrant be first committed shall be and hereby is 
enjoyed by vertue of this act (though omitted in the war- 
rant) to whip them severely and convey him to the next con- 
stable (toward his master's home) who is to give him the like 
correction and soe every constable through whose precincts 

1 Hening, II., 75, 115, 118, 266. * IW. t III., 448. 

60 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [318 

he passeth to doe the like." 1 In 1705 the severity of this act 
was somewhat mitigated by requiring justices who made the 
commitment to the constable to specify in their warrants the 
number of lashes to be given the runaway, "not exceeding 
the number thirty nine." Corporal punishment was also 
extended in offenses committed against the master solely. 
In 1673 the General Court ordered that a servant " for scan- 
dalous false and abusive language against his master have 
thirty nine lashes publicly and well laid on in James City and 
that he appear at Middlesex County Court next and there 
openly upon his knees in the said court ask forgiveness 
which being done is to take of any further punishment al- 
lotted him." 2 

Besides the power to regulate his servant's conduct and en- 
force the performance of his duties, the master acquired a 
sort of general control over his servant's person and lib- 
erty of action. By custom the servant enjoyed frequent 
respites from service and might freely employ this time as he 
saw fit. In consequence of an abuse of this privilege, how- 
ever, it became necessary to restrict it upon the consent of 
his master. The plot of certain servants in Gloucester 
county in 1663 to rise against their masters and subvert the 
government caused great alarm throughout the colony, and 
led to a strict regulation of the liberty previously allowed ser- 
vants of leaving their masters' plantations and assembling 
together. To suppress " unlawful meetings of servants," an 
act directed "that all masters of ffamilies be enjoyned to 
take especial care that their servants do not depart from their 
houses on Sundays or any other dayes without particular 
lycence from them," and the different counties also were 
empowered to make by-laws for preventing unlawful meet- 
ings and for punishing offenders. 8 

1 Hening, II., 278. 2 MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 44, 136. 

"Hening, II., 195; cf. 171, 441; Neill, Va. Carolorum, 295, 
296. Beverley, 55, 56. The attempt was made by a number of 
transported Oliverian criminals, who made use of the general 
political and religious discontent of the time. It was not a servile 
insurrection due to the harsh treatment of servants. 

319] Indented Servitude. 61 

Though the servant's right to the personal enjoyment of 
his property was recognized when protected by the terms of 
his contract or by the courts, his disposal of it became con- 
ditioned on his master's consent by the acts against dealing 
with servants, and the right of trade was practically taken 
away. 1 The habit had also grown up on the part of mas- 
ters of converting to their own use goods brought in by 
their servants or afterwards consigned to them. In 1662 an 
act was passed to restrain this, providing that all servants 
" shall have the propriety in their owne goods and by per- 
mission of their master dispose of the same to their future 
advantage." The revisal of 1705 confirmed the right of ser- 
vants to goods and money acquired "by gift or any other 
lawful ways or means/' with " the sole use and benefit thereof 
to themselves," making no reference to the necessity of the 
master's consent for a disposal of them. The continuation 
of the act against dealing with servants was a practical limi- 
tation, however, of any rights they may have had. 2 The 
servant's right to the possession of his personal estate now 
rested on statute and not on the occasional action of the 
courts or the will of his master; but he could not during 
servitude acquire a freehold interest in land, and tenancy of 
small tracts with the permission of the master was excep- 
tional. 3 

Other important rights became fixed or limited by 

1 Hening, I., 274, 445; II... 119. 

2 Hening, II., 165; HI., 450, 451; IV., 49. The servant fre- 
quently enjoyed the right of trade, however, with his master's 
consent, and many masters, besides paying wages or making 
gifts of money and stock, allowed servants the use of tracts of 
land. (Bullock, Account of Va., 1649, 52, 59.) 

3 Hening, IV., 46, 47, 49. An act of 1713 restrained a servant 
and overseer from keeping horses " without the license in writ- 
ing of his master or mistress," nor could the master give license 
for the keeping of more than one, the reason "by the act alleged 
being that great numbers were kept by persons who had no 
interest in land, and were so " suffered to go at large on the 
lands of other persons," which was "prejudicial to the breed 
of horses" and "injurious to the stocks of cattle and sheep." 

62 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [320 

the statute law of the period and certain new rights were 
developed. The servant's claim to freedom dues recognized 
by the custom of the country and enforced by the courts was 
at first only a general one and not specific, the amount 
granted varying according to the will of the master or of the 
court in which it was sued for, unless it had been specified 
in the contract. A clause was inserted in the act of 1705 
confirming this right and making it thereafter certain in 
amount. Every male servant was to receive upon his free- 
dom "ten bushels of indian corn, thirty shillings in money 
or the value thereof in goods and one well fixed musket or 
fuzee of the value of twenty shillings at least"; a woman- 
servant fifteen bushels of Indian corn and forty shillings in 
money or value. In later times these dues were discharged 
by a money equivalent and gifts of apparel. 1 

The freedom of a servant could be proved either by refer- 
ence to the registry of his contract or to a court record, if he 
\did not himself have a certificate of the fact from the county 
court or commissioner or from his master. In 1662, to 
facilitate the discovery of runaways and to protect innocent 
persons from arrest as such, or from penalties for entertain- 
ing suspected runaways, the clerk of the county court was 
directed to issue a certificate of freedom to every servant who 
adduced proof before the court of the expiration of his 
term. 2 Though designed as much for the protection of the 
master as of the servant, it became of great importance to 
the latter as his title to liberty and a guarantee that his rights 
as a free man would be fully respected. The necessity of 
such a guarantee appears not only from the restrictive nature 
of the legislation of this period, but from the records of the 
old General Court. Meager as they are, they present a 
number of instances of servants suing for their freedom who 
were either held or sold for periods longer than their lawful 
time. 8 The right was much abused, however, on the part of 

1 Hening, III., 151. 3 Hening, I., 254; II., 116. 

1 MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 150, 156, 158, 161, 162, 166, 173, 204, 218 

321] Indented Servitude. 63 

the servant. Heavy penalties had continually to be inflicted 
to prevent the theft of certificates or the use of forged or 
counterfeit ones. Stringent regulations had to be put on 
the granting and re-issuing of them, and where the servant 
made a fresh contract for service the certificate was to remain 
in the hands of the master till the contract expired. 1 The 
servant was further protected from an involuntary extension 
of his contract with his master by any intimidation or pressure 
brought to bear upon him by reason of his unequal position. 
After 1677 no contracts for further service or for freedom 
dues could be made by a master with his servant during 
servitude except with the approbation of " one or more jus- 
tices of the peace, 1 ' under penalty of having to free his ser- 
vant. By 1705 any contract for "further service or any 
other matter relating to liberty or personal profit " between 
master and servant had to be made in the presence and with 
the approbation of the court of the county. A practical 
limitation was also put upon the master's absolute right of 
assignment of his servant's contract. As the white servant 
was considered a Christian, as originally from a Christian 
land, the principle was established that he could only be held 
in servitude by Christians or those who were sure to give 
him " Christian care and usage." Thus free negroes, mulat- 
tces or Indians, although Christians, were incapacitated from 
holding white servants, and so also were all infidels, such as 
"Jews, Moors and Mohometans." Where any white ser- 
vant was sold to them, or his owner had intermarried with 
them, the servant became " ipso facto " free. 2 

An important right acquired by the servant during this 
period was the power given him to bring his complaint into 
court by petition " without the formal process of an action." 
This right, confirmed by the act of 1705, proved a great 
boon to the servant in case of unjust usage. The county 
court had full discretion in such a case and might free or sell 

1 Hening, I., 254; II., 116; III., 454, 455. 
'Hening, III., 450. 

4 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [322 

the servant away from his master. The right was extended 
to complaints of every character affecting the servant's 
rights. He could in this way sue for his freedom dues, his 
property or wages, or for damages for unlawful whipping. 
Another right granted by the act was that of commutation 
by a money satisfaction of corporal punishment for breach 
of the penal laws, and of additions of time for the expenses 
of capture in the case of runaways. 1 A right which was im- 
plied, if not expressly stipulated for in the contract, was that 
of a sick or disabled servant to claim support and medical 
attention at his master's charge during servitude, without 
any reciprocal right on the part of the master to further ser- 
vice therefor. The master was prevented by the liability of 
his goods and chattels to seizure from avoiding this obliga- 
tion by freeing his servant and throwing him upon the 
parish. 2 

Such rigor as is perceptible in the legislation of this 
period, and in general regarding the servant, we have seen 
appears particularly in the case of runaways, and is to be 
traced to the influence of the developing institution of slav- 
ery. Little practical distinction was made in the treatment 
of runaway servants and slaves where the practice was ha- 
bitual, and the servant by his association with the negro 
fugitive became subjected to indignities that would not 
otherwise have been inflicted. 3 The influence of slavery is 
also to be traced in the disposition to regard the servant as 
property and subject to the same property rights as the rest 
of the personal estate. As an important part of his master's 
estate he had become liable to the satisfaction of his debts 
and could be levied on equally with the goods and chattels. 4 

1 Hening, III., 448, 452, 453, 459. 2 Ibid., III., 449, 450. 

3 Ibid., III., 456; IV., 170, 171. 

4 Northampton Co. Rec., 147, 149; Fitzhugh's Letters, July 22, 
1689. Fitzhugh writes to Mr. Michael Hayward that his deb- 
tor's estate is probably sufficient to save his debt, as he has 
"4 good slaves with some other English servants, and a large 
stock of tobacco"; York Co. Rec., 86. 

323] Indented Servitude. 65 

The conception of the servant as a portion of the personal 
estate is shown to be fully developed by an act of 1711, 
which directed that servants and slaves should be continued 
on the plantation of a person who died intestate, or who did 
not otherwise direct in his will, to finish the crop, upon 
which they were to remain in the hands of the executors or 
administrators ; while the slaves were then to pass to the heirs 
at law, as by the act of 1705 they had been declared to be 
real estate. 1 

The period is thus characterized by a twofold develop- 
ment: first, on the part of the master, from a conception of 
his right to the service guaranteed by the contract and to 
such incidents as enabled him to realize this right, to a con- 
ception of property in the servant himself which he would 
employ to the utmost advantage allowed him by the law; 
and on the part of the servant, from a desire to fulfil the con- 
ditions of his contract to a desire in general to escape from 
servitude whether based on lawful contract or on the exac- 
tion of his master: secondly, a reduction of the relation of 
master and servant to fixity and uniformity throughout the 
colony by the action of statute law in ascertaining their 
respective rights and duties. 

Third Period, 1726-1788. During this period the institu- 
tion of white servitude gradually declined before the grow- 
ing institution of negro slavery, which proved economically 
far superior to it. We find the development of no new 
rights on the part of the master, and on the part of the ser- 
vant only that of assent to the assignment of his contract. 
This was not granted until 1785, when the system itself was 
practically at an end. The contract could now be assigned 
only on the free consent of the servant, attested in writing by 
a justice of the peace. 

The various modifications introduced affecting rights 
already established were generally in mitigation of the ser- 
vant's condition, and point to a very rapid decline of in- 

1 Hening, IV., 284. , ' 

66 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [324 

dented servitude after the middle of the century. This is 
indicated by a reduction of penalties for such abuses as har- 
boring runaways or dealing with servants, and by the repeal 
in 1763 of former acts providing for the servitude of persons 
who came in without indentures, while making no provision 
' to regulate it in future. In 1765 the practice of binding the 
bastard children of a white woman-servant or free woman for 
thirty-one years was declared by the Assembly to be " an 
unreasonable severity to such children," and the term was 
limited to twenty-one years for males and eighteen for fe- 
males. By the act of 1769 they were to be treated as appren- 
tices, to be instructed and to claim all the rights of other 
apprentices. 1 Unimportant changes were introduced in the 
law relating to runaways designed to facilitate their recovery 
with least expense to the master and consequently with least 
injustice to the servant. 2 Freedom dues were fixed with a 
money equivalent, and were the same for both men and 
women. Injury to a servant might be redressed by " imme- 
diate discharge" from service by order of a court. The 
legislation as a whole was not important and developed no 
new principles. The legal fixity of the conception of the 
servant as a piece of property is apparent, and becomes fur- 
ther developed through the influence of slavery and as a 
result of the long terms, of from seven to fourteen years, on 
which the ^English felons were transported to the colony. 3 

LThe act of 1785 legally defines servants as "all white per- 
ons not being citizens of any of the confederated states of 
America who shall come into this commonwealth under con- 
tract to serve another in any trade or occupation." This 
definition excluded slaves, hirelings who were citizens of 
any of the confederated states, but included convicts (whose 
importation was not finally prohibited until 1788) and ap- 
prentices from abroad. The term of servitude was limited 

1 Hening, III., 445, 451; V., 552; VI., 359, 360; VIIL, 134, 135, 
136, 337. 

1 Hening, V., 552, 557; VI., 363; VIII., 135, 136. 
3 Hening, XII., 150, 151, 191; 6 Geo. III., c. 32; 8 Geo. III., c. 15. 

325] Indented Servitude. 67 

to a period not exceeding seven years, except in the case of 
infants under fourteen who might be bound by their guar- 
dians until the age of twenty-one, and all servants, the act 
declares, " shall be compellable to perform such contract 
specifically during the term thereof." Corporal punishment 
by order of a justice was the power in a master's hands of 
enforcing such performance, and the benefit of the servant's 
contract was to pass to " the executors, administrators, and 
legatees of the master." 1 

We have seen that the relation bi master and servant was 
at first a relation between legal persons, based on contract, 
and that such property right as existed consisted in the mas- 
ter's right to the labor and services of his servant, while the 
servant enjoyed a reciprocal right to support and, to some 
extent, to protection and instruction from his master; that 
gradually the conception of property grew at the expense 
of that of personality, and that with a limited class of ser- 
vants personal liberty became so restricted that they stood 
in respect to their masters in a position somewhat 
analogous to that of slaves. The broadest practical 
and legal distinction was made, however, between the 
servant in general and the slave, and the institution 
of white servitude differed widely from that of slavery, 
both in nature and in origin. It rested for its sanction 
on national or municipal law alone, while slavery wasj 
based upon international as well as municipal law. In. 
extent servitude was of limited duration, while slavery) 
was for life. The personality of the servant was always rec- 
ognized and his status could not descend to his offspring, as 
was the case with the slave's, nor did the master at any time 
have absolute control over the person a,qj liberty of his ser- 
vant as of his slave. The servant always had rights which 
his master was bound to respect, and besides the guarantee 
of personal security enjoyed a limited right to private 

1 Hening, XII., 190, 191; IMd., Justice, 417, 418; Hening, XII., 



68 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [326 

property. The conception of the servant himself as a piece 
of property did not go beyond that of personalty, while the 
slave did not remain as personal estate, but came to be re- 
garded as a chattel real or as real estate. The mutual effects 
of the institutions upon each other are shown, however, in 
the growth of this conception of property, and particularly 
also in the legislation respecting runaways, unlawful assem- 
blies, or absence from the master's plantation. Servitude 
may thus be regarded as preparing the way both legally and 
practically for the institution of slavery as it existed in 
Virginia. 1 

Social Status of the Servant. The actual condition of the 
servant, though in great measure determined by his legal 
status and by certain social laws, was also largely influenced 
by many customs that had no sanction in law, and the dis- 
tinction between servant and slave became as clearly denned 
under the action of these and the practical working of the 
law as in the letter of the law. 

In regard to employment a marked distinction was fre- 
quently made between the servant and the slave. The in- 
dustry of the colony was chiefly agricultural, its staple 

1 Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage, I., 116, 129, 139, 210, 
220. Robinson MS., 10, 243, 250, 256, 261. This is shown in the 
application of corporal punishment and of additions of time, and 
in the disposition to claim negro and Indian servants as slaves. 
In 1640 the addition of time for a negro runaway servant was, 
in a case brought before the General Court, servitude " for the 
time of his natural life here or elsewhere." Hening, II., 118, 
288, 481; III., 277; IV., 168, 171, 174, 202; Va. Gazettes, 1737; 
Tucker's Blackstone, Appd., 55-63. Though slavery assumed a 
comparatively mild form in Virginia, much of the criminal law 
relating to slaves was of a very discriminating and harsh char- 
acter, as was also the procedure. Cf. acts of 1723, 1748, 1764, 
1772; Minor, Institutes, I., 161 et sq. Until 1772 no restriction 
was put on the outlawry of a slave, he might be killed in re- 
sisting arrest, and until 1788 the murder or manslaughter of a 
slave by his master might go unpunished, the presumption 
being that he would not wantonly destroy his own property. 

The influence of servitude upon slavery will be discussed at 
greater length in a monograph on Slavery in Virginia, now in 

327] Indented Servitude. 69 

throughout the seventeenth century being tobacco. Where 
the servant was engaged in field labor he was worked 
side by side with the negro slave, under the direction of 
overseers who were frequently the best of his own class. 
This was not in itself a hardship, as the work was the same 
as that of the planters themselves and of every common 
freeman, and the servant was not required to do more in a 
day than was done by his overseer. As the number of? 
negroes began to increase, the harder and greater part of 
the work was put upon them, and the servant, as more intel- 
ligent, was reserved for lighter and finer tasks. Though as- 
sociated with the negro, he was not compelled to live with 
him in " gangs " and " quarters," and, unlike him, could 
make complaint if insufficient clothing or lodging were pro- 
vided. 1 Women-servants were commonly employed as do- 
mestics, as by an act of 1662 they became "tythable" and 
their master subject to the payment of levies for them if they 
were put "to work in the ground"; the negress, however, 
had no such exemption in her favor and was frequently em- 
ployed in field labor with the men. With regard to their 
labor, the slave, Beverley says, was better off than the hus- 
bandmen and day-laborers of England, and the servant's lot 
was still easier. 2 Very large numbers of the servants were 
also artisans and skilled workmen and were employed in 
building and other trades. Almost every profession was 
represented, and on the large plantations, which provided 
mostly their own necessities, there was a great demand for 
such servants and for industrial apprentices. Many servants 
were thus taken into the families of their masters in various 
capacities, and were treated with as much consideration as if 
working under a free contract for wages. Considerable 
domestic manufacturing was of necessity carried on at all 

1 Va. MS. B. R. O., 302; Jones, Present State, 36. 

2 Beverley, 219; Jones, Present State, 37; Hening, II., 170; 
Fitzhugh, MS. Letters, Jan. 30, 1686-87; Force, III., L. and R., 

70 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [328 

times, and after the introduction of large numbers of slaves 
for the field labor, white servants were generally utilized for 
that purpose. They were thus better housed, clothed and 
fed than the negro, as a result of the position they occupied 
toward their master as well as from the protection afforded 
them by the law. 1 

Besides a general social obligation of protection and de- 
fense recognized by most masters toward their servants as 
dependents, the law only held a servant responsible for his 
own free acts and not for those performed under the orders 
of his master. 2 Where the servants were apprentices a high 
personal trust was involved, and the master, besides occupy- 
ing the position of guardian, was bound to render religious 
and secular as well as mechanical instruction. Not only 
was attendance at church required by law, but all servants 
and apprentices were to be instructed together with their 
masters' children every Sunday "just before evening prayer " 
by the minister of the parish. When such obligations were 
recognized, the great distinction between the positions of a 
servant and a slave is at once manifest. 3 Where these obli- 
gations rested upon the provisions of the contract they seem 
to have been carefully guarded by the courts. A servant 
complained in a general court of 1640 of her " master's ill 
usage by putting her to beat at the mortar for all his house- 
hold " when he had promised " to use her more like his child 
than a servant " and to teach her to read and instruct her in 
religion, and the court considering the " grevious and tyran- 

1 Carpenters, joiners, sawyers, bricklayers, blacksmiths, en- 
gravers, weavers, shoemakers, tailors, saddlers, bakers, teachers, 
surgeons and other craftsmen were imported. Va. Gazettes, 
1736 sq. 

2 Col. Reo. Va. Laws, 1610, 21, 28; Winder MSS., I., 245 (1667); 
Hening, III., 462, 463; IV., 425. 

3 IMd., I., 143, 144, 157; II., 260; III., 459; IV., 133; XIL, 681; 
Jones, 92, 94; Stat. at Large Va., III., 124. Before 1667 baptism 
had in many cases been refused to slaves and their offspring, 
since doubts existed as to its effect on their status. It was then 
settled that baptism did not free the slave. 

329] Indented Servitude. 71 

ical usage" of her master, ordered her to be freed, though 
she had yet a year to serve, and to receive her freedom dues. 1 

Frequent respites from service were also granted. It was 
not only the custom to allow servants Saturday afternoons 
as well as the Sabbath for free disposal, but all the old holi- 
days were rigidly observed. An industrious servant was 
thus given an opportunity to lay up a competence for his 
start in the world as a free man. Tenure of small tracts of 
land was sometimes permitted by masters, and with the live 
stock given him he might raise cattle, hogs and tobacco and 
so become possessed of considerable property. The evolu- 
tion from the days of the London Company of an aristocracy 
of wealth rather than of blood was a somewhat slow process, 
so that there was nothing in the servant's position itself 
(except that it debarred him from the possession of landed 
property and consequently of certain civic rights) to con- 
demn him to a very inferior social position. No odium 
attached to his condition or person as to the slave's, and 
where he proved worthy of consideration he might enjoy 
many of the social privileges that would have been accorded 
him as a free man. 2 

The servant himself was disposed to regard his condition 
as only that of a free man rendering services for a sort of 
wages advanced to him in his transportation and mainte- 
nance, and his legal disabilities as only a temporary suspen- 
sion of his rights necessary to insure a more complete reali- 
zation by his master of the right to service. Constantly 
looking forward to his full freedom, he considered his posi- 
tion as analogous to apprenticeship, or to that of the ordi- 
nary hired laborer rather than to that of the slave. The 
natural pride of the free man sustained by this feeling, to- 
gether with the strong race prejudice that has ever separated 

1 Robinson MS., 8. 

2 Force, III., L. and R., 14; IMd., Virginia's Cure, 7, 10; Bul- 
lock, 52 sq. Instances are related of their appearing at social 
gatherings in their masters' houses on equal footing with the 
family and their guests. 

72 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [330 

the Englishman from an inferior and dependent race, and his 
religious sentiment as a Christian, or at least of Christian 
origin, sufficed to make a very great practical distinction 
between his social position and that of the negro and Indian, 
slave or free. These sentiments were effective with the bet- 
ter class of servants in keeping them aloof from association 
with such inferiors. With convicts and the lower classes, 
where such considerations were not always sufficient, the 
law took precaution by the most stringent measures to up- 
hold them and to prevent race contamination. Freemen 
and servants alike were subjected to severe penalties for 
intercourse with negroes, mulattoes and Indians, and inter- 
marriage with them or with infidels was prohibited by many 
statutes prescribing the punishment both of the offender 
and of the minister who performed the ceremony. 1 The 

1 Hening, I., 146, 552; II., 170; III., 86, 252. The Governor and 
Council in court in 1630 ordered " Hugh Davis to be soundly 
whipped before an assembly of negroes and others for abusing 
himself to the dishonor of God and shame of a Christian by de- 
filing his body in lying with a negro which fault he is to 
acknowledge next sabbath day." A similar case came before 
the court the next year. Very few negroes, however, were 
brought to Virginia before the latter half of the century, but 
the records of the general court during the period (1670-76) of 
increased importations of negroes under the African Company, 
having no reference to the recurrence of the offence, points to 
a disposition on the part of the whites in general to avoid race 
contamination. The growth of a considerable class of mulattoes, 
particularly mulattoes by negroes, is appreciable towards the 
end of the century, however, and is shown by the passing of 
several acts to restrict it. The first statute on the subject, that 
of 1662, imposed double fines for fornication with a negro, 
but no occasion for restricting intermarriage seems to have 
arisen till 1691, when an act was passed " for prevention of 
that abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter 
may encrease in this dominion as well by negroes, mulattoes 
and Indians intermarrying with English or other white women 
as by their unlawful accompanying with one another," and pun- 
ished the intermarriage of a free white man or woman with a 
negro, mulatto or Indian, bond or free, with banishment for- 
ever from the colony within three months after the marriage, 
and the justices of the county were " to make it their perticular 
care that this act be put into effectual execution." The revisal 

331] Indented Servitude. 73 

limitation of servants' marriages upon the master's consent 
was a sufficient safeguard in their case, and but little respon- 
sibility may be regarded as attaching to them for the growth 
cf the mulatto class. As was natural between two dependent 
classes whose conditions were different and widely in favor 
of one class, race prejudice and pride were at their strongest 
and developed jealousies which did not exist between the 
master and his dependent or the freeman and the slave. A 
disposition on the part of servants to keep themselves free 
from all association with negroes is very perceptible. 

The presence in the latter part of the seventeenth century 
of quite a number of the English lower classes and criminals, 
together with a greater development of the aristocratic sen- 
timent from the influx of a considerable number of gentle- 
men just after the civil war in! England, 1 had the effect of les- 

of 1705 altered this penalty to the imprisonment of the offender 
six months and a fine of ten pounds Virginia currency, the person 
who performed the marriage forfeiting ten thousand Ibs. of to- 
bacco. When a woman-servant was guilty of having a mulatto or 
negro bastard she was, as a free woman, sold for five years as a 
punishment, or subjected to a fine of fifteen pounds, while the 
necessity of the master's license barred the unlawful intermar- 
riage of servants. Where the offense occurred, then it was more 
likely to do so in the case of a free person than of a servant, 
as the master would not be likely to give his consent to any 
such marriage, having much to lose and nothing to gain from 
the service of the issue which might be sold away from him by 
the churchwardens of the parish. In one instance a girl was 
given her freedom because her master had consented to such a 
marriage, and such rulings of the courts probably checked ex- 
ceptional cases. The practical distinction to be made between 
servants as whites, and negroes and Indians was one constantly 
recognized by the courts and the Assembly. The consideration 
of racial distinction alone seems to have led the Assembly in 
1670, when the question of the legal power of the free Christian 
Indian or negro to hold a servant came up, to declare in the 
negative. Hening, II., 168, 280; III., 86, 87, 453, 454; Rob. MS., 

1 Beverley, 232, 233; Wirt, Life of Henry, 34. Va. MSS. B. R. 
O., Vol. II., pt. I., 291. The importance of the introduction of 
these persons into Virginia society has been probably exagger- 
ated. Gov. Nicholson, writing to the Lords of Trade, Dec. 2, 
1701, says: " Fit and proper persons for executing the several 

74 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [332 

sening the barrier between servant and slave and increasing 
that between the ruling and dependent classes. Yet with the 
middle classes, the smaller planters and the yeomanry, who 
still constituted the great body of the inhabitants, and were 
to an important extent recruited from the freed servants 
themselves, no such caste feeling was produced, and the gen- 
eral social position of the servant continued to be widely dis- 
tinguished from that of the slave. 

The real condition of the servant in the American colonies 
was much better than has generally been supposed, and was 
decidedly better in Virginia than in some of the other colo- 
nies. Though what was practically white slavery seems to 
have existed in some of the island plantations of England, 
there is no instance, so far as I have been able to discover, 
of a white person sold into slavery in Virginia. How far the 
general character of white servitude differed from slavery 
has been sufficiently shown, and in considering the apparent 
barbarities to which a servant was subjected we should re- 
member that neither in England nor on the Continent was 
the condition of the dependent classes any better. The doc- 
trine of the rights of man had not yet arisen in the seven- 
teenth century, nor was it until the latter part of the next 
century that its practical fruits began to appear. It was 
reserved for the revolutionary movement of the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries, which brought political and re- 
offices and imployments decrease in twenty or thirty years if 
th natives cannot be prepared fewer or none will be found 
capable of executing the several offices, for there is little or no 
encouragement for men of any tolerable parts to come hither, 
formerly there was good convenient land to be taken up and 
there were widdows had pretty good fortunes which were en- 
couragements for men of good parts to come but now all or 
most of these good lands are taken up and if there be any wid- 
dows or maids of any fortune the natives for the most part 
get them, for they begin to have an aversion to others calling 
them strangers. In the civil war several gentlemen of quality 
fled hither and others of good parts but they are all dead, and 
I hope in God there never will be such a cause to make any 
come in again." Beverley, who was opposed to Nicholson and 
his government, confirms this view. 

333] Indented Servitude. 75 

ligious liberty to America and a great part of Europe, to # 
completely develop the idea of personal liberty. Not until 
the late years of the eighteenth century was feudal serfdom 
generally abolished on the continent of Europe, and as late 
as 1835 the prison and the flogging board still constituted a 
part of the equipment of every Hungarian manor. 1 In Eng- 
land villeinage passed away comparatively early as a result 
of the social disturbances of the fourteenth century, though 
a case was pleaded in the courts as late as 1618. Its extinc- 
tion was thus gradual without any legislative abolition, and 
it was many years before the principle of free contract labor ^' 
was fully worked out. The tendency of the agrarian re- 
forms of England, in contrast to those of some continental 
countries, was to develop a class of landless freemen whose 
position was worse than if they had possessed land on semi- 
servile conditions. The small farmer gradually gave way 
before the capitalist farmer, and the large laboring class that 
was formed was stripped of all interest in the soil. These 
laborers were compelled to work by the various statutes 
regulating labor and apprenticeship under some master, and 
had to do so generally on long terms, with fixed wages and 
hours of labor, and restrictions were placed on departure or 
dismissal from service under severe penalties. The system 
introduce^! by the final statute of laborers, the so-called 
Statute of Apprentices of 1563, embodying the results of 
many previous measures, had the effect of checking migra- 
tion of servants and in general of lengthening the period of 
servitude, and remained effective until the industrial revolu- 
tion which followed the introduction of machinery. 2 

Some improvement in the economic condition of Eng- 
lish servants is discernible during the latter part of the sev- 
enteenth century, but not much can be said as to the better- 
ment of the social condition. Where they were in their mas- 
ter's household, and received rations and apparel in part pay- 

J Fyffe, Mod. Europe, I., 21, 24, 26. 

2 Taswell-Langmead, Constitutional History of Eng., 316, note; 
Cunningham, 40-42, 184, note, 192, 198-200, 362, 387, 388. 

76 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [334 

ment of wages, they were not generally as well fed and 
clothed as the indented servants in Virginia. Their labor 
was more burdensome and the arbitrary treatment to which 
they were subjected was frequently more severe. Corporal 
punishment was a common mode of regulating their con- 
duct, and shackles were used to prevent their running away. 
For extreme maltreatment on the part of the master the only 
redress was discharge from service, or in some cases a paltry 
forfeit of less than a pound to the servant. They were fre- 
quently discharged from their service contrary to the statute, 
and besides maltreatment their wages and apparel were often 
withheld. The condition of the English servant was thus 
sufficiently bad to make numbers of them migrate to Vir- 
ginia in the hope of bettering it. 1 

1 Cunningham, 192, 193, 196; Beverley, 220; Jones, 92. Old- 
mixon, 290: " If hard work and hard living," he says, " are 
signs of slavery, the day laborers in England are much greater 
slaves." Middlesex Co. Rec., II., 22, 100, 101, 120, 130, 138; III., 
23, 117, 318; Ibid., S. P. Rolls, Oct. 8, 1655; IW., 6 Chas. I., p. 
34; 18 Chas. I., 117; 13 Chas. II., 318; Aug. 27, 1652, p. 209; 4 
Chas. I., 23. The Middlesex records and sessions rolls give a 
number of interesting cases that throw light on the condition 
of the English servant. For an assault upon his master, an 
offense which would have been punished in Virginia by whip- 
ping or addition of time, a servant was in 1618 adjudged " to be 
imprisoned for a year, to be flogged on two market days at 
Brainford, to be put one day in the stock at Acton and on his 
knees in the open church to ask forgiveness of his master and 
afterwards to be reimprisoned." Unruly and disorderly servants 
and apprentices were sent to houses of correction, when they 
became effective after 1609, " to labour hardly e as the quality of 
their offence requireth." In 1652 a servant on covenant for a 
year's service complained of her mistress, and the sessions 
found "that the said lady did violently beat her servant with 
a great stick and offered to strike her with a hammer and that 
the said lady doth retain the wages due," and ordered dismissal 
and payment In another case a master confesses "that he 
hath most uncivilly and inhumanly beaten a female servant 
with great knotted whipcord so that the poor servant is a 
lamentable spectacle to behold." Another master was held to 
answer " for giving his servant immoderate correction by beat- 
ing him with three roddes one after the other." A case which 
must be regarded as very exceptional occurred in 1655. An ap- 

335] Indented Servitude. 11 

That the servant sometimes met with very harsh treat- 
ment cannot be denied, however. In a case of judicial 
punishment by a commissioner of a county court, before the 
punishment had been regulated by statute, a servant was 
whipped almost to death, and the passing of an act by the 
Assembly in 1662 prohibiting private burial of servants or 
others, because of the occasion thus given for " much scan- 
dall against divers persons and sometimes not undeservedly 
of being guilty of their deaths," shows that sometimes the 
master abused his right of corporal punishment in an ex- 
treme degree. 1 The cruelty of some masters was sufficient 
towards the middle of the seventeenth century to interfere 
seriously with the importation of servants, and the Assembly 
in 1662 attempted to put a stop to it by giving the servant 
an easy remedy upon complaint to the commissioners for all 
his grievances. From this time forward harsh treatment may 
generally be considered as exceptional. Beverley says of the 
treatment of servants, " The cruelties and severities imputed 
to that country are an unjust reflection, no people more 
abhor the thought of such usage than the Virginians nor 
try more to prevent it now whatever it was in former days." 
This statement seems to be borne out by other contemporary 
authorities and by the records of the courts, which show that 
every safeguard was thrown around the servant, and that 
wherever the slightest pretext for freeing him appeared it 
was taken advantage of. Justice was readily accessible. 
Every few miles a justice might be found to whom com- 
plaint could be made, and the county courts, which met in 

prentice complained that his master made him work on Sunday 
and further misused him " by fastening a lock with a chain to 
it and tying and fettering him to the shoppe and that said 
master, his wife and mother did most cruelly and inhumanly 
beat his said apprentice and also whipped him till he was very 
bloody and his flesh rawe over a great part of his body, and 
then salted him and held him naked to the fire being so salted 
to add to his pain." 

1 Ace. Rec., 80; Hening, II., 35, 53. In 1661 the Assembly con- 
firmed an order of the General Court forbidding a man and his 
wife " to keep any maid servant for the term of three years." 

78 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [336 

the early times as often as necessity required, and later every 
month, redressed servants' grievances in a " summary " man- 
ner. 1 

A servant could legally sue for his freedom on retention 
in service after his contract had expired, or for his master's 
violation of the act of 1676 by attempting to make any con- 
tract with him to his damage, or upon purchase by negroes, 
mulattoes, Indians or infidels, or upon the intermarriage of 
any such person with his owner; but the courts going be- 
yond this in the discretionary power granted them by law, 
would free a servant for breach of the terms of indenture by 
the master, for breach of a contract to marry, for a second 
complaint of ill usage, and sometimes even upon a first com- 

1 Force, I., L. and R., 4; Hening, I., 435; II., 117, 118, 129, 488; 
Beverley, 219, 220, 222; cf. Bullock, Jones, Virginia's Cure, Leah 
and Rachel, pp. 11, 12, 15-17. John Hammond in 1659 warns 
servants against mariners, shipmasters and others who imported 
them merely for gain, and advises them to covenant for liberty, 
to choose their own master and a fortnight's time after their 
arrival in which to do so, " for ye cannot imagine," he says, 
" but there are as well bad services as good but I shall shew ye 
if any happen into the hands of such crooked dispositions how 
to order them and ease yourselves when I come to treat of the 
justice of the country which by this they may prevent." From 
this traffic in servants by middlemen it is evident that much 
deception and fraud might be practiced upon the unwitting, 
both before and after reaching Virginia. They were deceived 
in making their contracts by such general stipulations as for 
an allotment of land " according to the custom of the country," 
which was represented to them as being 50 acres, when no allot- 
ment to the servant was customary at all until after 1690. 
False indentures seem to have been made also, either through 
corruption in the registry office or by forgery, as a number of 
blank indentures, properly signed and sealed, were brought to 
the notice of the Assembly in 1680, and all judgment of their 
validity, when alleged, was lodged in the discretion of the jus- 
tices. The practice of selling men on shipboard to the highest 
bidder, or of consigning them to merchants at Jamestown or 
other ports for sale, might, of course, result very unhappily for 
servants, and during the voyage to Virginia they often suffered 
great hardships for want of clothes, bedding and diet. These 
were mild, however, compared to the " horrors of the middle 
passage" in the days of slavery. 

337] Indented Servitude. 79 

plaint where no fault of the servant appeared. The number 
of such suits occurring both in the General and the county 
courts, and the fraudulent concealment of indentures, show 
a continual disposition on the part of the master to extend 
the servitude, though unjustly, for as long a period as pos- 
sible. 1 By the acts giving the master additions of time for 
the birth of a bastard child to his servant, a premium was 
actually put upon immorality, and there appear to have been 
masters base enough to take advantage of it. This was re- 
strained by an act of 1662, which provided that the maid- 
servant should be sold away from her master in such cases 
and no compensation allowed him for the loss of her time. 
Complete freedom would probably have been granted but 
for the harmful effect on the servant herself. 2 

The speedy rendering of justice to the servant through the 
special procedure provided in his case, and the unrestricted 
right of appeal to the higher courts, placed him in an excep- 
tional position. The fact that the law was interpreted in the 
most favorable light possible for the servant, and that no fear 
was ever entertained of a servile insurrection, except in the 
single case of the Gloucester plot of 1663, which was due to 
political rather than social reasons, may be regarded as con- 
firming the positive statements of contemporary writers as 
to the comparatively easy conditions of servitude during the 

1 Hening, II., 280, 388; III., 447; IV., 133; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct, 
159, 162, 166, 173, 204, 218, 238; Robinson MS., 2, 8, 256, 265; 
Gen. Ct., 154, 156, 158, 161; MS. Rec. Va. Co., III., 233, 292; Ace. 
Rec., 2; Essex Rec., 132; Henrico Rec., 85; Force, III., L. and R., 16. 
Verbal agreements were sometimes alleged, and where proven, 
or where the servant could not produce his indenture, they 
might be enforced. An indenture, however, was an effectual bar 
to any such agreement. 

2 Hening, II., 167; III., 453; MS. Rec. Genl. Ct., 8. The number 
of false pleas brought into court by servants to get a reduction 
of their time, and the offenses of which they appear to have 
been guilty, show that the master was more likely to be im- 
posed on than the servant. Genl. Ct, 8, 12, 15, 44, 47, 158, 188, 
1675, Oct. 2; Ace. Rec., 85; Henrico Rec., 41; Robinson MS., 27. 

80 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [338 

period of indented service. We may conclude that where 
the servant showed himself at all deserving his lot was in 
general very easy and frequently much better than he had 
ever before enjoyed. 1 

1 Except in the early period and in 1777, the servant was free 
from the obligation of military service, and, as in the case of 
slaves, the law did not allow the sale of spirituous liquors to 
them. Hening, III., 400; VI., 74; VII., 93, 101; IX., 32, 81, 271, 
275, 592; Sparks' Washington, Vol. II., 168, 169. 



We have seen that by provisions of the statutes and 
tinder the practice of the courts a servant might legally ob- 
tain his freedom in several ways; the ordinary mode, how- 
ever, was on the expiration of the term of his contract. He 
might then claim a certificate of freedom, and with his title 
to liberty resting on this or on the records of a court, all his 
legal disabilities were at once removed and he became "as 
free in all respects and as much entitled to the liberties and 
privileges of the country as any of the inhabitants or 
natives." 1 

To determine the place and influence of the servant as a 
freedman in the very complex social and economic develop- 
ment of the colony is by no means an easy matter. Merged 
as he was in the general class of free men, such effects as 
were due to his presence were not easily distinguishable. 
The process itself was largely unconscious on the part of the 
people and but barely recorded in contemporary history. 
Little historic material has thus survived on which to base 
satisfactory conclusions. Enough remains, however, to give 
decisive proof of a very rapid evolution of servants when 
free, and to show that they did not continue as a class at all, 
and so could not have formed, as has been mistakenly sup- 
posed, the lowest stratum of Virginia society in the 
eighteenth century. The various classes that made up the 
society of colonial Virginia were separated from each other 
only by the broadest and most general distinctions,, and 
graded almost imperceptibly into one another. The law rec- 
ognized no distinction whatever except in the case of the 

1 Beverley, 220 sq. 

82 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [340 

twelve councillors. The class which stood at the head of 
the social order and formed a kind of aristocracy was mainly 
an outgrowth of the official class and of landed proprietors, 
who, having acquired wealth or large estates, had been able 
to preserve them in their families for several generations 
through the action of the law of entails. A number of 
wealthy would-be aristocrats, without real culture and 
refinement, together with the poor but proud younger sons 
of the aristocrats, hung on to and aped the manners of the 
class above them; but the solid middle class of independent 
yeomanry, with plain and unpretentious manners, was far 
more numerous, and even in the latter part of the eighteenth 
century formed nearly half the population of the colony. 
The lowest class of all is described by a contemporary as " a 
seculum of beings called overseers, the most abject, de- 
graded, unprincipled race." 1 

The freed servants may in all justice be said to have re- 
cruited all these classes at different periods during the con- 
tinuance of indented servitude, but toward the beginning 
and in the first years of the eighteenth century probably 
more largely that of the small independent planters or 
laborers and the class of overseers. Though pride and 
wealth generally acted to make the upper classes hold them- 
selves aloof from the lower, the good-will and generous hos- 
pitality characteristic of all classes gave them all more or 
less of a common life and freedom of association with each 
other, and where those elements were present in any man 
that would merit his rise he was not likely to be kept down 
by any false ideas due to caste sentiment. The rapidity with 
which some freedmen rose to positions of trust and distinc- 
tion is abundant proof of the opportunity which lay open to 
all that possessed true desert. Many servants were besides 
this of better origin and education than the generality of; 
freemen, and were frequently employed in such respon- 

1 Wirt, Life of Patrick Henry, 33, 36; Id., British Spy, 192- 
194; Anbury, Travels through the interior parts of America, 
London, 1789, 371-376. 


341] The Freedman. 83 

/sible positions as teachers, and many ministers were im- 
I 'ported on conditions almost parallel to those of indented 
' servants. 1 

In the first half of the seventeenth century their rise to 
prominence was often very rapid. Several members of the 
Assembly of 1654 were men who had been servants, and in 
1662 we are told that "the Burgesses which represent the 
people . . . are usually such as went over servants thither," 
who "by time and industry . . . have acquired competent 
estates." 2 Intermarriage of free persons and servants was } 
very common. . Masters sometimes bought female servants [ 
for their wives, and it was not uncommon for men-servants 1 
to marry into their masters' families when they gained their / 
freedom. 3 No impassible social barrier thus seems to have; 

1 Col. William Preston, of Smithville, Va., bought at Williams- 
burg, about 1776, a gentleman named Palfrenan, as a teacher 
for his family; he was a poet and a scholar, a correspondent 
and a friend of the celebrated Miss Carter, the poetess, and also 
of Dr. Saml. Johnson. This man educated many of the Prestons 
and Breckenridges in Virginia and Arkansas. The distinguished 
Wm. C. Preston of S. C. was one of his pupils. Richmond 
Standard, June 9, 1880, Letter of Mrs. Floyd; Va. Hist. Mag., 
Oct., 1894, p. 236, Will of Col. John Carter (1669). 

z Neill, Va. Car. 279, 290; Force, III., Virginia's Cure, 16; Howe, 
207. Peter Francisco, a Revolutionary soldier celebrated for his 
personal strength, had been an indented servant for seven years. 
" He was a companionable man and an ever welcome visitor in 
the first families in this region of the state," says a contem- 
porary living in Buckingham County. Cf. " A Declaration," etc., 
4, 57; York Rec., 1633-34; Rob. MS., 52; Col. MS., 17. 

3 Rob. MS., June 3, 1640; Wm. Byrd's Letters, June 9, 1691; 
Bullock, 52 sq. Bullock advises English fathers to send their 
daughters to Virginia rather than their sons, and promises that 
they " will receive instead of give portions for them." " Maid 
servants," he says, " of good honest stock may choose their hus- 
bands out of the better sort of people. Have sent over many 
but never could keep one at my plantation three months except 
a poor filly wench made fit to foille to set of beauty and yet 
a proper young fellow served twelve months for her." He tells 
men-servants how they may prosper by their service and lay up 

!a competence, " and then," he says, " if he look to God, he 
may see himself fit to wed a good man's daughter." Bullock 
was a Yorkshireman and had had seven years' experience in 
Virginia when he wrote in 1649. Cf. McDonald, II., 68. 

84 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [342 

existed, nor were opportunities lacking for the material im- 
provement of the servant. To better his fortune when out 
of indenture at least two courses were open to him. He 
might remain with his master or some other person as a 
hired man or tenant upon his lands, or he might become an 
independent planter by taking up whatever unoccupied land 
in the community had proved too barren to be already pat- 
ented by freemen, or by moving to the frontier where abund- 
ance of good land was to be had on the easiest terms. 

There was a constant demand for labor, both agricultural 
and mechanical, throughout the colonial period, a demand 
satisfied neither by the indented servants nor by the large 
importations of slaves. The wages of hired labor were con- 
sequently always high, particularly those of artisans or 
tradesmen of the slightest capacity. Freedmen who were 
content to become members of the laboring class had abund- 
ant opportunity and inducement to do so. Until domestic 
manufacturers were checked by the repressive measures of 
the English Board of Trade, considerable encouragement 
was given to skilled workmen to exercise their crafts or to 
establish themselves in an independent position. When the 
profits of tobacco-planting increased, however, this industry 
probably absorbed a large number of freedmen, as very fav- 
orable conditions of tenantship were offered on the great 
estates, where men usually held on what constituted practi- 
cally a life tenure. The disposition to become a freeholder, 
however, particularly after the servant enjoyed a claim to 
land in his own right, was most marked of all. 1 In the 

1 Ace. Rec., 36, 37, 42; Va. MS. B. R. O., V., pt 2, pp. 302, 317, 
386, Nov. 11, 1708, Nov. 29, 1728; Robinson MS., 180; Bullock, 62 sq.; 
Beverley, 225; Hening, I., 208, 301; II., 172, 472, 503; III., 16, 30, 
50, 53, 75, 81, 108, 121, 187, 197. Large importations of craftsmen 
had been made by the planters without satisfying their needs, 
and men were specially encouraged to remain in the employ of 
their former masters or to serve the community in their trade. 
Many servants received in addition to their transportation 
and support, wages equal to those paid the best servants in Eng- 
land. Though the colony was chiefly agricultural in character 

343] The Freedman. 85 

earlier times, though the person importing him could claim 
fifty acres for his importation, the servant does not appear 
to have been legally entitled to any grant of land from the 
government. A grant was frequently stipulated in the con- 
tract with a master, and became also in some places a cus- 
tom, which like freedom dues was recognized by the courts. 
In 1690 the instructions to Governor Howard directed that 
every servant receive a patent of fifty acres in fee on attain- 
ing his freedom, and it is probable that henceforth he was 
regarded as having a legal claim to such a grant. Before 
this the rules for leasing or patenting lands in many cases 
allowed him to acquire the tenancy of small tracts at a nomi- 
nal rent, and lands were also left with other bequests to ser- 

and dependent on England for many of the ordinary articles 
of manufacture well into the eighteenth century, it is a great 
mistake to suppose that no manufacturing or attempts to build 
up trade appeared in Virginia. The fact that attempts were 
not largely successful was due not to domestic causes alone, but 
to the policy of the English Board of Trade, whose interest it 
was to keep Virginia agricultural for the benefit resulting to 
English commerce. The repeated efforts of the Assemblies to 
develop manufactures and to crush out the slave trade were 
defeated in England rather than in Virginia. In the late years 
of the seventeenth century and early years of the eighteenth, 
the difficulty of obtaining goods from England and the low price 
of tobacco gave the planters excuse for establishing consider- 
able manufactories on their plantations; cotton, woolen and linen 
goods were made, and shoemaking and tanning were undertaken 
on a somewhat large scale. These industries grew to such an 
extent that great fear was aroused among English merchants of 
the loss of a very profitable part of their trade. The letters of 
the Lords of Trade are full of questions in regard to this new 
departure, and of recommendations and instructions to discour- 
age it as much as possible. In 1707 as many as four counties 
on the south side of James river were given over to the pro- 
duction and manufacture of such goods, and a considerable 
trade had sprung up with New England and the islands. The 
Lords recommended the Queen the next year, from fear of a 
great loss to her revenues, to appoint a fleet and a convoy to 
sail from England every year with all such commodities as the 
planters needed, to prevent their applying their labor to any 
other product than tobacco. Exports of corn, pork and " great 
cattle " were made from Virginia to New England as early as 
1639. Rob. MS., 180. 

86 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [344 

vants in their masters' wills. 1 The practice of the sale of 
rights to land due for the importation of people, to the col- 
ony, both by the holders of them and by the secretary, for 
the small sum of four or five shillings, and the modes of 
granting out lapsed and escheated lands, made it a very easy 
matter in later times for the servant to become the pro- 
prietor of landed property 2 in the old settled communities, 

1 Va. MSS. B. R. O., 318; Ibid., II., pt. I., 81 (1698); Henrico 
Rec,, 36; Hening, I., 161, 209; Rob. MS., 57, 61. In 1626 much of 
the common land that had belonged to the London Co. was 
leased to the large number of tenants and servants, then freed, 
in such quantity and for such a number of years as seemed 
necessary, at the yearly rent of one pound of tobacco per acre. 
Cf. McD. MS., I., 295. 

2 Beverley, 220, 226, 227; MS. Rec. Va. Co., III., 219; Va. MSS. 
B. R. O., 335, 342; Hening, I., 125, 173, 197, 291, 468; Virginia's 
Deplorable Condition, 164. Titles to land in the first instance 
rested on patents granted for special services, for consideration, or 
for the importation of persons to the colony as settlers. A condi- 
tion of ceding the land within a limited period after the patent's 
issue accompanied such grants comparatively early. Where this 
condition was not fulfilled the land lapsed and a new patent 
might be issued to any one petitioning the General Court and 
the Governor, on similar terms, the theory being that land grants 
were made to encourage settlers only. Seating involved consid- 
erable expense for improvements, the building of a house, clear- 
ing and planting three acres of every fifty, and a full stocking 
of the land. All this was more than the patentee to large tracts 
could undertake. It was not an uncommon thing for the right 
to land to lapse several times over, unless it could be disposed 
of by sale. The sale of rights became thus as general as the 
sale of the land itself, and they were readily purchasable for 
very small sums. After 1705, fifty-acre rights, according to the 
Royal Instructions, could be bought at five shillings per right. 
Escheated lands also, where the escheat was not traversed and 
no equitable right was shown to the lands, could be easily 
obtained on petition to the Governor by payment into the treas- 
ury of a composition of two pounds of tobacco for each acre. 
In the early years, however, no time limit was imposed upon 
the seating of lands, and the abuse of land-grabbing, which had 
begun almost immediately on the general introduction of prop- 
erty in the soil in 1619, had had sunacient time to result in the 
concentration of all the best lands along the river-courses in 
the hands of comparatively few persons. This was facilitated 
by the ownership or the buying up of large numbers of fifty- 
acre claims, called " head rights," for the importation of set- 

345] The Freedman. 87 

and when good land could not be obtained in this way there 
was always room for him on the frontier. Though much of 
the frontier land was patented out in large tracts, to lie un- 
settled for a time, it was gradually broken up into small 
ones and disposed of by the owners to squatters and settlers, 
so that the Piedmont and western parts of Virginia became 
characterized by farms of moderate extent rather than by 
large plantations as in Eastern Virginia. 1 

The growth of this class of small farmers was effective in 
developing over a large portion of the State a very strong 
type of peasant proprietorship, and sufficiently shows that 

Tthe servant was under no necessity of becoming either a] 
pauper or a criminal. That he did to some extent recruit j 

^these classes is what might naturally be expected from the 
introduction of English convicts as servants, and after they 
came in some numbers we have indications that they were 
responsible for much of the crime committed ; but pauperism 
in Virginia before the first quarter of the eighteenth century 
was almost unknown. 2 

tiers. Claims were admitted for the members of a man's family, 
himself as well as his wife, children, and all servants imported 
at his charge, and even for the negroes brought in (this latter 
kind was soon denied). Corrupt practices prevailed also in the 
offices issuing the grants, head rights were used many times 
over, and rights could be purchased of the secretary at three 
to four shillings, or even a half-crown. In this way large tracts 
came into the possession of a few men, to lie mostly barren and 
uncultivated unless tenanted. Tracts of 20,000, 30,000 and 50,000 
acres existed of which not fifty were under cultivation. When 
the two new counties of Spottsylvania and Brunswick were set 
apart during Spottswood's government, with an exemption from 
quit-rents for several years, Spottswood himself was accused of 
taking 40,000 acres. 

1 Hening, IX., 226; Va. MS. B. R. O., May 31, 1721, Spotts- 
wood to Lords of Trade; Spottswood's Letters, II., 227. The 
abolition of the system of entails, which had been stricter in 
Virginia since 1705 than even that of England, was a further 
step in this process after 1776 in eastern Virginia also. Spotts- ' 

Twood, writing in 1717, says that frontiersmen were generally 

| of the servant class. 

2 Beverley, 223, 258; Jefferson, Works, IX., 255; Jones, 116 sq. 
The convict class was probably never at any one time very 

88 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [346 

Under the stimulus of regained freedom and the abundant 
opportunity afforded for individual endeavor, the freed ser- 
vant may in general be regarded as growing up with the 
country, as becoming an independent and often valued citi- 
zen, and materially aiding in the development of the re- 
sources of the colony. Trained by his long apprenticeship 
in the best practices of agriculture or of his trade, and thor- 
oughly acclimated, he was better able than a new-comer to 
take a place profitably both to himself and to the public in 
the social and political order. 

large in Virginia, as their importation was discountenanced and 
every effort made to stop it. Beverley speaks of Virginia as " the 
best poor man's country in the world but as they have nobody 
poor to beggary so they have few that are rich few ask alms 
or need them." A testator left five pounds to the poor of his 
parish, but it was nine years before the executors could find 
a person poor enough to accept the gift. Where the poor ex- 
isted, provision was made for them in some planter's family at 
the public charge. 


From what .has been said the importance of the system of 
white servitude in colonial development is apparent. Such 
effects as were due to it were to some extent obscured by the 
institution of slavery, which, existing for some time along- 
side the earlier system and finally supplanting it, either 
greatly counteracted or enhanced its influence. Yet it is 
possible to make some general deductions as to the social 
arid economic results which followed its introduction into 
the American colonies. Its superiority to a system of per- 
fectly free labor under colonial conditions could not -be 
doubted if it were certain to lead to the development of a 
class of independent freeholders. The benefit to production 
to b derived from long and certain terms of service with 
contract labor was sufficiently shown in the experience of 
contemporay England. We" can see how advantageously 
such an extension of the time and certainty of labor supply 
as was involved in indented servitude, together with the 
power of control by the master and the economy of provid- 
ing for large numbers of servants together, would work in a 
new and sparsely settled country whose industry was chiefly 
agricultural and dependent for success on a foreign trade 
and consequently on the efficient management of large 
landed estates by a capitalist class. 1 Some form of cheap 
labor was a necessity; the slavery of Christians and white 

1 In Virginia and Maryland the existence of such a staple as 
tobacco, which could only be produced profitably on a large 
scale and constantly required large quantities of new land, made 
such a development certain from the first. Tobacco was intro- 
duced into Virginia in 1616 and almost immediately became the 
staple product. The ready adoption of the system in the New 
England colonies, where such conditions did not exist, however, 
shows its industrial efficiency. 

90 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [348 

men was naturally abhorrent, that of Indians impracticable 
on a large scale, and negro slavery was comparatively slow 
in becoming an object of desire to the Virginia planters. 
The gradual and tentative development in practice of in- 
dented servitude from what at first was theoretically but a 
modification of free contract labor clearly shows its recog- 
nized economic superiority to such a system as existed in 
England. Designed not only as a labor supply, but as an 
immigration agency, it had generally the effect of an 4JQdus-_ 
trial apprenticeship, greatly strengthening the position of 
the capitalist employer and developing a class of industrially 
efficient free men. It supplied the entire force of skilled and 
domestic labor of the colony for more than half a century, 
and continued, after slavery as a general labor supply had 
supplanted it, to be the source of all high-grade labor well 
into the eighteenth century. It provided for the growth of 
a strong yeomanry during the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries, preventing a complete absorption of the land into 
large estates ; and in furnishing a great number of independ- 
ent settlers and citizens, particularly for the back territory, it 
had a most marked effect on the political as well as the eco- 
nomic development of the country. 1 

The moral influence of the system cannot in general be 
said to have been good. The tendency was to harden the 
/ master's feeling towards servitude and to prepare him for a 
more ready adoption of slavery, and the introduction of un- 
desirable classes into a society already lax in habit was not 
likely to improve the moral tone or the social welfare of the 

colon y-' 

1 By the temporary disfranchisement of the servant during his 
term, common after the middle of the seventeenth century, a 
serious public danger was avoided. There could be no guarantee 
of the judicious exercise of the suffrage with this class who, 
for the most part, had never enjoyed the privilege before. Their 
servitude may be regarded as preparing them for a proper ap- 
preciation of suffrage when obtained, and the duties of citizen- 
ship. In the later days of public improvement and town-build- 
ing, the imported craftsmen were a valuable class. 

2 Spottswood Letters, II., 227. 

349] Conclusions. 91 

In comparison with the institution of negro slavery, the 
superiority of white servitude for social and moral consid- 
erations seems to have been recognized by the Virginia 
planters, but from a purely economic point of view its infe- 
riority was fully apparent, and from the first considerable 
importation of negro slaves the ultimate destruction of the 
system was easily foreseen. The slowness with which negro 
slavery was adopted shows a conscious effort on the part of 
Virginia, so long as it was permitted to act freely, to resist 
the encroachment upon servitude. At the same time that 
English policy was forcing 1 slavery upon the colony it cut 

1 It is a significant fact that the first negroes were brought 
to Virginia in 1619, the same year in which the principles of 
indented servitude may be said to have been fully developed, 
and yet forty years later there were but three hundred negroes 
in the colony. From 1664 to 1671 several shiploads of negroes 
were brought in, and there were two thousand slaves and six 
thousand servants in Virginia. By 1683 the number of servants 
was nearly doubled, according to Culpepper, while the negroes i 
numbered only three thousand. (Hening, II., 515; Culpepper's 
report, Doyle, 383.) From this time servitude gave way before 
slavery, forced on the colonies by the large importation of ne- 
groes by the Royal African Co. under its exclusive charter. It 
was the policy also of the King and the Duke of York, who 
stood at the head of the African Co., to hasten the adoption of 
slavery by enactments cutting off the supply of indented serv- 
ants. In 1698 the African trade was thrown open to separate 
traders, and an active competition at once sprang up between 
them and the African Co., the separate traders making large 
importations and underselling the Company. Though a law of 
1660 gave practical encouragement to the importation of negroes 
by the Dutch, the colonists had become sufficiently aware of 
the dangers of slavery in 1699 to lay a discriminating duty upon 
them for three years, and upon alien servants in favor of the 
Welsh and English born. The act was continued in 1701, allow- 
ing a rebate of three-fourths the duty where the negroes were 
transported out of the Dominion within six weeks. The duty 
was continued by the acts of 1704 and 1705 where the duty was 
laid simply upon " negroes or other slaves." The excuse of 
revenue was alleged, and brief limitations given to the acts in 
order to secure their confirmation in England, but the slave 
traders readily saw that the design was to lay prohibitive duties, 
and they secured the withholding of the King's assent to as 
many as thirty-three different acts passed by the Virginia As- 

92 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [350 

off the supply of indented servants, and the decline of the 
system after the last quarter of the seventeenth century was 
very rapid. The final extinction of indented servitude in 
Virginia did not take place till some time after the close of 
the Revolutionary War; as late as 1774 there was still some 
demand for servants, 1 and the importation of convicts was 
not finally prohibited until 1788. The real efficiency of the 
system, however, had ceased long before. Even in the late 
years of the seventeenth century negro slaves were more in 
demand for supplying old plantations or beginning new ones 
than servants, and where a demand existed for white ser- 
vants it was for artisans and apprentices, and large prices 
had to be paid to get good ones. 2 White servitude survived 
after the downfall of the system in an apprenticeship of do- 
mestic growth, originating in the binding of poor or bas- 
tard children for a term of years for their instruction and to 
save the parish the expense of their support; but this had no 
historic connection with the apprenticeship which constituted 
a part of indented servitude, and itself finally passed away 
under the regime of perfectly free labor. 

The experience of Virginia was largely repeated in the 
other colonies, and the general effects of the system were 

sembly to discourage the slave trade. (Hening, I., 540; III., 193, 
213, 225, 229, 233; Tucker's Blackstone, I., Appd., 51; Minor, 
Inst, I., 164). The importation of negroes, however, could not 
be checked, and the chief advantage Virginia reaped from these 
acts was a large revenue for her public works. In 1705 the 
number of 1800 negroes was brought in, and in 1708 there were 
12,000 negro tithables compared with 18,000 white, while the 
revenue from white servants was too inconsiderable to deserve 
notice. (Va. MS. B. R. O., Nov. 27, 1708, Jennings to Lds. of 
Trade.) Intended insurrections of negroes in 1710, 1722, 1730, 
bear witness to their alarming increase, and by the middle of 
the century the blacks were almost as numerous as the whites. 
Va. MSS. B. R. O., V., pt 2, p. 352; II., pt I., 211; 1708, Nov. 
21; 1710, June 10; 1712, July 26; 1722, Dec. 22; Burke, 210; Gal. 
Va, State Papers, I, 129, 130. 

1 Ford's Washington, II., 408, note. 

Fitzhugh, Letters, Jan. 30, 1686-87, 1686, Aug. 15, 1690; Wm. 
Byrd's Letters, Feb. 25, 1683, June 21, 1864, Mar. 29, 1685, 1686, 
May, June, Nov. 

351] Conclusions. 93 

much the same in all. The influence on internal develop- 
ment was even more clearly marked in Maryland and Penn- 
sylvania than in Virginia. In Pennsylvania the large num- 
ber of German settlers who came in this way, driven from 
home by religious or political persecution, became the most 
valued of citizens. 1 The rise and influence of the freedman 
in Maryland was as perceptible as in Virginia. Though 
that colony was unfortunate in receiving a larger number of 
the convict class, very few of them seem to have remained 
in the country on attaining their freedom, but returned to 
Europe or migrated to distant settlements. 2 In the other 
southern and middle colonies and in New England servants 
were not numerically so large a class., and their rise and ab- 
sorption into the higher classes became from social and 
political reasons even more easy than in Virginia and Mary- 
land. 3 

The actual conditions of servitude varied somewhat in the 
different colonies, assuming in some respects a harsher, in 
others a milder character than we have seen in Virginia. 
Thus in Massachusetts the elective franchise seems to have 
been exercised by servants only up to the year 1636, and the 
qualification of church membership was required of all voters 
to 1664. In Virginia the " inhabitants " voted for burgesses 
until 1646, and until 1670 the freed servant enjoyed the suf- 
frage along with other free men, there being no property 
or other qualification. 4 The terms of servitude also in many 

1 Kalm, Travels, I., 29, 388, 390. They were frequently in good 
circumstances, and sold themselves to learn the language or 
methods of agriculture. 

2 GambralPs Colonial Life of Maryland, 165, and Neill's Found- 
ers, 77, quoted in Brackett, Negro in Md.; Eddis, Letters, 63, 66, 

8 Plymouth Col. Laws, VIII., pt. IH., 34, 35, 47, 58, 61, 65, 81, 
140, 195. 

*Hurd, I., 254 sq.; Bancroft, I., 322; Conn. Rev. S., 40; Hening, 
I., 300, 334, 403, 411, 475; II., 82, 280, 356, 380; Col. Rec. Va, 
Assemb., 1619. Hurd, I., pp. 228-311, gives a valuable abstract 
of all laws relating to bondage hi the colonies. 

94 White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia. [352 

of the colonies were longer than in Virginia. In Mary- 
land the common term seems to have been five years. Seven- 
year terms were frequent in Massachusetts, and in Rhode 
Island even ten. Provision was taken for the strict en- 
forcement of the full term, and enfranchisement was not en- 
couraged. Additions of time, corporal punishment, limita- 
tion of the rights of trade and free marriage, and provisions 
for the capture and return of runaways, were much the same. 1 
Greater numbers of Indian and mulatto servants seem to 
have been made use of in New England than in the other 
colonies, though the importation of white servants was speci- 
ally encouraged by the enactments against Indian slave-trad- 
ing. Georgia and the Carolinas also encouraged the impor- 
tation of servants of the better class, while the colonies in 
general made an attempt to protect themselves against con- 
victs and servants of undesirable classes, as Irish Papists and 
aliens. 2 

The wide prevalence of the system, not only in the Ameri- 
can but in the island plantations of England, had -a most 
important bearing on the social economy of Great Britain 
and of other European countries, similar in a less degree to 
the effect of the large European emigration of the present 
day. Not only were many of the evils of a congested popu- 
lation lessened, but elements of the greatest social and politi- 
cal danger were effectively gotten rid of by forced transpor- 
tation. 3 The effect on England of the removal of large num- 

1 Eddis, 63; Hurd, I., 271 sq., 309, 310; Pa. Laws, 1700-1, 13 sq., 
230, 552. 

2 Hurd, I., 271 sq. 

3 4 Gea, c. 11; 6 Geo. III., c. 32; 8 Geo. III., c. 15; 19 Geo. III., c. 
14; Prendergast, 52, 53, 163, note; Carlyle's Cromwell, II., 457; 
Neill, Va, Vet., 102, 103. As the Stuarts systematically encouraged 
the deportation of troublesome persons and petty criminals to 
the American colonies, so Oliver Cromwell in preparing for his 
settlement of Ireland did not hesitate to transport large num- 
bers of the dispossessed Irish as slaves to the West Indies, 
or as servants to the English plantations in America, nor to 
sell the survivors of the Drogheda massacre as slaves to 
Barbadoes. Until stopped by the War of the Revolution, the 

353] Conclusions. 95 

bers of political and social offenders was wholly beneficial; 
and though many of the emigrants from the Continent were 
religious or political refugees, a great number were also 
from the poorer classes, and their withdrawal was a consid- 
erable economic relief. 

In conclusion an important political effect on the Ameri-^j 
can colonies should be noted. The infusion of such large | 
numbers of the lower and middle classes into colonial society 
could only result in a marked increase of democratic senti- 
ment, which, together with a spirit of rebellion against the 
unjust importation of convicts and 'slaves, increased under 
British tyranny the growing restlessness which finally led 
to the separation of the colonies from the mother country. 1 

penal statutes of the Georges continued to send the felons of 
Scotland and England to the American colonies. (Of. DeFoe, 
"Moll Flanders" (1686) and "Captain Jack.") Large numbers 
of servants were brought into Maryland and Pennsylvania from 
Germany, Switzerland and Holland. They were generally known 
as " Redemptioners," from redeeming their persons from the 
power of the shipmaster who transported them, usually by a 
voluntary sale into servitude. The system continued in active 
operation in Maryland well up to the year 1819. Cf. Laws, Feb. 
16, 1818. 

1 Franklin, Works (Bigelow ed.), IV., 108, 254. Jefferson, Works 
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